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Thursday, 25 October 2012

Researching the Impossible


Cerece Rennie Murphy 

To me, the best science fiction is always grounded in what we know or what we think we know.  The closer the science fiction world resembles the world outside my door, the bigger the trip my imagination goes on because it challenges me to see all the things I experience and take for granted everyday a little differently.   

In my daily life, I don’t look for Yoda though he literally was my first love, but now that I’ve seen Looper, I’m on alert with every weird-looking kid I see.  That’s the beauty of contemporary science fiction.

For the Order of the Seers trilogy, I tried to create that same sense of “Wait...am I seeing what I think I’m seeing or is it somehow different now.”  The series rests on a fairly basic premise – there are a group of people who can see the future and they are enslaved for that ability.  The challenge for me in developing this story was to give a credible answer to the question of how and why.  This is where my research on genetics and paranormal behaviour kicked in, helping to give me some “real world” anchors on which to build the overall mission, purpose and dilemma of the story. 

I also wanted to have a somewhat realistic limit to their powers for two reasons.  First, I wanted readers to put themselves in the position of the Seers and for that I needed to use more familiar abilities.  For example, humans do not have the physical prerequisites for unassisted flight, but we have all experienced some level of precognition (déjà vu, dreams that come true, etc).  Second, the fact that Seers are fully human is critical to the story line and my ultimate goal/mission which was to inspire each reader to question the limits of his or her own potential. 

So what are the takeaways from this post for research and science fiction? Well, a lot depends on the needs and goals of the story you are telling, but here are some questions/principles that I have found helpful in guiding me to write the best science fiction thriller that I can.

1)     What is your goal with the setting?  Are you trying to “WOW” readers with a newly imagined world or make them suspicious of the everyday?  If it is the former, I would recommend not limiting yourself by any research at first.  Let your imagination run away with you for awhile.  Outline the sci-fi premises and then identify what anchors you might need to help your reader understand the world you are creating.  James Cameron never really explained how the floating mountains of Pandora work, but we did understand that bones reinforced with carbon fiber made the Na’Vi hard to kill. If your goal is the latter, then I think you start out by identifying the concepts/conventional wisdom or paradigms you which to challenge.  Make sure you spell them out, so that you know exactly where you need to fill in the logic between what is known and what you are proposing.

2)     Don’t forget the details.  If your story is set in the real world, try to get the language and place right.  Google and other search engines make this easier. The last thing you want to do is have a chase scene on a highway in the middle of Washington, DC when there IS NO highway in the middle of Washington, DC.  You don’t have to make it factual, but plausibility is a good thing when you are nestling a sci-fi world right in the middle of a real one.  Try to control the concepts and information that are up for grabs in the reader’s mind that way they will be more likely to end up where you want to lead them.

3)     Make sure your scientific conclusions are flexible enough for your story.  In developing the genetic marker premise for Order of the Seers, I ran into a wall when doing my initial research on DNA.  I later found a solution that can have a number of useful applications that I am expanding on in the sequel.  (Sorry to be vague here, I’m just trying not to give anything away for current or future Order of the Seers readers. )
My overall point is, keep digging.  If you’re not a geneticist, the research can be difficult to comprehend.  Don’t be afraid to approach a professor at your local university.  Your ineptitude in understanding their field of expertise will often endear them to you. For those of us who are easily confused, this is a tried and true method for garnering sympathy, helpful explanations and mini-lectures for which most people have to pay.  The key here is to do enough research so that it’s clear you are trying VERY hard to understand, you just need an expert to connect the dots using very small words (and possibly a picture).

4)     And last, but not least, have fun.  If you are a sci-fi geek, like me, how cool is it that you get to write in a genre you love?  Don’t forget to take off your writer hat and put on your reader hat.  You are a sci-fi aficionado too. Do you believe your story?  Is it cool to you?  Ultimately, some people won’t agree with your assessment of the story, but understanding that you can’t please everyone is part of being an adult.  Just keep in mind the reader that you do want to reach and write for them and yourself.
That’s what I have learned so far in researching the impossible.  I hope it was helpful to you.  Live Long and Prosper! 

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Order of the Seers

What would you do if you held infinite power in the palm of your hand?

Brother and sister, Liam and Lilith, are hunted by The Guild, a ruthless world organization that seeks to capture and exploit Lilith’s unique ability as a Seer to envision the future.  

They discover that other Seers are routinely enslaved by the Guild, but from within the organization, Marcus Akida escapes, and is drawn to  Liam and Lilith.

As the Guild’s efforts to find them intensifies, the Seers ban together with outlaws from the commune to fight back against the organization that threatens their lives – setting off a chain of events that will unleash the full power of the Seers and change everything we know about the true potential that lies dormant in each of us. 

See the Power Within 

Author Cerece Rennie Murphy 

Cerece Rennie Murphy lives and writes just outside of her hometown, Washington, DC and is currently working on the sequel to her first novel, Order of the Seers. 

To learn more about the author and her upcoming projects, visit her website at www.crmurphybooks.com.

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