Writing Technobabble: Z is for Zathras

Welcome to my guide on how to write technobabble! Every post will start with one letter of the alphabet, from A to Z, and cover tips and ideas for all you writers of sci-fi. Whether you’re writing about near-future science fiction, far-flung alien worlds, or historical steampunk adventures filled with advanced technology that never was – these posts are designed to help you write convincing and unique tech for your story! 

Z is for Zathras 

So what does Zathras mean? Zathras is a character from the TV show Babylon 5. He is an alien who helps to maintain the Great Machine—an ancient and advanced piece of tech on the otherwise-desolate planet that the Babylon 5 space station orbits.

For this particular A to Z Challenge about technobabble, what Zathras represents goes along with the “X” and “Y” posts. He represents something “other” and strange, and he represents the author just plain having fun with worldbuilding. Zathras is a comical yet enigmatic character who is not very good at explaining how his tech works (or explaining anything, really); but he is wise, intelligent in his own way, and masterful at building and fixing advanced tech, even if he can’t explain how it works.

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Writing Technobabble: D is for Details

Welcome to my guide on how to write technobabble! Every post will start with one letter of the alphabet, from A to Z, and cover tips and ideas for all you writers of sci-fi. Whether you’re writing about near-future science fiction, far-flung alien worlds, or historical steampunk adventures filled with advanced technology that never was – these posts are designed to help you write convincing and unique tech for your story! 

D is for Details

Have you heard the saying “the devil is in the details”? What this means is that the little details matter, and it’s the little things that can trip you up and create big problems. So for us writers, here’s a paraphrase: “the story is in the details.” 

“Story” is a lot of things—it’s characters, it’s plot, it’s theme, it’s voice. But what gives all of those things an extra punch, and can help turn an okay story into a great one is rich details. Details are an important element of world-building, and can add a lot to the believability element. 

In the sci-fi epic TV show Babylon 5, the Earth ships used rotating sections to create gravity, whereas most of the other alien races had more advanced technology to generate artificial gravity. Every time an Earth ship appeared, they were immediately recognizable because of the bulky spinning sections in the center. The explanation of the spinning center of the ship came up briefly only once or twice during the 5-year series, but the important detail of the ship design was consistent throughout, with or without an explanation.

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What Writer is Your Greatest Influence?

I have several authors whom I list as my favorites, or as my greatest influences. I believe a lot of writers probably do the same.

A writer (or artist of any discipline, really) takes a little bit from every piece of work they read or experience. And that’s really the best way to learn. We learn to tell great stories by imitating other great storytellers.

Learning by Imitation

When we’re first learning, the imitation is often just that: a thinly-disguised copy of a favorite story or an obvious mimicry of another author’s style. And that’s okay, because we’re still in the early stages of learning and developing our own style. Our influences are more apparent. Continue reading

Why I’m Writing Short Stories Instead of Novels

I’ve always considered myself a novelist. I love long involved stories, the more epic the better. As a kid I loved The Chronicles of Narnia, then I read The Lord of the Rings and others (The Silmarillion, etc.) I love a thick novel with a thick plot (like The Historian), and my favorite TV show is the sprawling sci-fi epic Babylon 5.

And so, I began writing what I loved reading. In middle school I had an epic fantasy series that I wrote on for several years (I’d planned to make it a seven book series, and wrote first drafts of about two and a half books). When I first started this blog a few years ago, I was working on an epic fantasy trilogy inspired by the folktales of Finland.

While I have not given up on either fantasy series, both have been temporarily shelved and I’ve started writing short fiction. Because of my love of long epic stories, I never thought of myself as a short story writer. Continue reading

Love Tropes in Stories

Even though Valentine’s Day was yesterday, I feel obligated to write a Valentines-ish post, just because. Even those of us who don’t call ourselves readers of the romance genre usually enjoy a good love story. So here are a few of my favorite couples from books/movies/shows, and the different types of loves stories they represent:

The Against-All-Odds Love – Sheridan and Delenn

This couple is from the sci-fi show Babylon 5, which I’ve blogged about many times, and which I hold up as one of the best examples of storytelling in any media. The main plot of the show is war, good versus evil, and the shades of gray in between. But there’s a little romance, too. Sheridan and Delenn have everything going against them: they’re busy leading an army, trying to save their respective governments, and dealing with cultural difficulties between the two of them because they are two different species. But they fall in love anyway, determine to make it work no matter what, and their unity makes them and those who follow them stronger for it.

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5 Things Watching Sci-Fi has Taught Me about Writing

It’s no great secret that my favorite genres to read and watch are fantasy and science fiction. I’ve actually watched a lot more sci-fi than I’ve read (unless you count comic books). But anyway, I’m doing this post as a follow-up to last week’s post about things that Star Trek has taught me about writing.

For this post, I’ll branch out, and draw examples from some of my favorite sci-fi TV shows ever: Babylon 5, Stargate (all the series, but mostly SG1), and Star Trek (all the series, but mostly TNG). And don’t worry if you haven’t seen all or any of these – my point is to illustrate how good writing is good writing, regardless.

Consistency in world-building is vital to believability

This is the most important thing that I’ve learned about writing. Whether you’re writing sci-fi or a YA contemporary romance, a short story or a 10-novel series, you must be consistent within the world of your story. Consistency helps create credibility and believability, even with a fantastical subject matter. In Star Trek, regardless of which series you’re watching, the ships always fly with a warp drive. This is one thing (of many) that the audience can always expect from any story set in the Star Trek world.

Characters are what truly make the story

Citizen G'Kar of Babylon 5 may be an exotic-looking alien, but he's also a deeply complex, and surprisingly human, character.

Citizen G’Kar of Babylon 5 may be an exotic-looking alien, but he’s also a deeply complex, and surprisingly human, character.

Of course people watch sci-fi for all the special effects, the exotic aliens, and the epic space battles. And in books – sci-fi and otherwise – the adventures, snappy action, and rich settings are important. But without fully-developed characters, all you really have is a cool travel brochure of the world you’ve created. For a story, you need plot and characters. Readers and viewers need people they can connect with.

The three sci-fi shows I mentioned – Star Trek, Babylon 5, and Stargate – have no shortage of characters. What makes an engaging story is the relationships between the characters – their friendships, the different ways they handle challenges, their enemies, their likes and dislikes. In Babylon 5, the overarching plot is war encroaching on peace. But what makes the audience keep coming back for the next episode is not just the dramatic space battles and the epic story of the Army of Light versus the Shadows. It’s the characters who make up that Army of Light, the characters who have hopes and dreams and a reason to keep fighting. If the audience didn’t care about the characters, they wouldn’t care who won the war. Continue reading