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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Having a problem with current story idea

   
Author Topic: Having a problem with current story idea
ScottMiller
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Since my fantasy WIP is still in "brainstorming" stage (meaning, I'm still at the point where I throw out ideas and retune other ones, before beginning the hard work of worldbuilding), I've been fooling around with an SF idea I could then put together and work on whenever I get stuck on the other project. (This is one of my work methods, and it helps when I get stuck--I always have something to work on.)

I keep rewriting this because I'm having problems expressing my problem (that's irony for you). The basic set-up: A group of kids are being subjected to experiments in a communist totalitarian-type state, with an eye towards future military use of the results (in a war with a neighboring country that has headed into fascism, a la Italy or Germany in the 30s). I settled on some sort of gene therapy/modification program, with the intention of figuring out how to produce specific abilities, like better planning, greater strength, stamina, endurance, what have you, and each treatment would be specialized. (The state has decided on children as subjects because the scientists in charge feel it would be more indicative of future results with other human beings. This is not necessarily rational, but look at all the time Soviet Russia spent on researching things like Kirlian auras, for similar reasons.)

My worry is that this wouldn't be good enough. True, it isn't the point of the story (that would be seeing if a couple of the kids could escape, and eventually get somewhere to people who could help them), but I don't know if it's a strong enough set up. Something keeps nagging me about it.

I do know that there are far too few genes for any one function to be mapped to a specific gene (instead, from what I've read, one gene, or groups of genes, may handle a wide range of functions), but I think I could work around that. I'm just not certain that it's good enough to belong in your average SF story. (It is an "alternate future history" type story, rising out of a 20th century that ended very differently, so I think it's OK to be talking about tech that is close to coming down the pike in our own time, and not mired too much in the trap of "near future" stories that have kept coming out in the last several years. I hope.)

What do you all think? Comments and criticisms are more than welcome. I find they help me think things through more clearly.


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HSO
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This idea rings familiar. It's Ender's Shadow and the rest of that series deal with Bean's genetic manipulation -- created to be super-leader in the military, with a price, of course.

I don't recall if OSC elaborated on the specifics, i.e., which genes, how many were tweaked. Rather, I think he simply showed that Bean had been manipulated.

As to whether your idea is good enough for a SF story, well... it is, but there's also the thing that all stories are about people. If you're writing a hard SF story, you had better do your research. If you're writing a character story, there may be some research necessary, but you don't have to elaborate on the finer details. It will suffice to just say "this happened".

Naturally, the characters who have been genetically modified will a huge role to play... maybe even the person(s) responsible for the gene tweaks. What I'm getting at is that while it might be tough to create a story solely on gene modification, the real story is going to be how the characters respond to their situations. I feel that this will probably be an underlying subplot for your story.

Genetic modifications are not new to SF by any stretch... I wouldn't worry about it too much. Just write your story, cautious and aware that there are many stories dealing with this, specifically for military applications.


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Humchuckninny
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OSC does a little bit of both "hard SF" and, what would the other be, "soft SF?" throughout his novels. For instance, I noticed how much he had researched in the Speaker for the Dead track - it really showed, whereas such research was not mandatory in the novels following Bean's life. Just like HSO said, it sort of depends on which path you want to take. But make sure that either way you get facts right.

As for your story idea, it's pretty hard to tell whether or not it's going to have a strong base. You've described a strong setting that can be used to build an amazing story, but you really haven't developed a story itself. Unless you're going to take a very broad, somewhat vague image of the chronological course of events that occur within your setting, the real frame of your story is going to lie in what you choose to elaborate upon.

For instance, OSC could have just described world events after the "buggers" had been destroyed. Instead he followed a couple people and used them to create the story in a setting that had a strong base. See what I mean?


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Survivor
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Is it important to the story that the program actually work? Also, it is important that they're using genetic modification? Thirdly, it is really important that the children be for military use?

Okay, that might be going a bit far. But I'd suggest a different starting point for your idea. Look at what the Soviets did with their athletic training programs (and some of what the Nazis were doing with their various programs). Exaggerate as needed for your story (or not).


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ScottMiller
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HSO: I haven't read any of the shadow series yet; I'm still trying to catch up on series, and I haven't yet finished Speaker For The Dead, although I will before too long. Perhaps I should read out of sequence to make sure I don't fall into accidental plagiarism. The story is keyed more to the children's escape at this point, not to rising up through the ranks, but I don't want to take a chance.

It's not going to be hard SF, but a character-based story. I don't think genetic modification is a new enough concept to be interesting in and of itself (or, I lack the skills to make it interesting, anyway). Thanks for your comments; they're helping me a great deal.

HumChuckNinny: Well, I guess the story will be soft (if not mushy) SF. I intend at the moment to keep a fairly tight focus on the main characters, which will make inserting the back story harder. I'm just trying to make sure I can get everything straight before I go off outlining and starting chapters. I do better when I have a solid background to work from.

I take your point that it's hard to know exactly how it will turn out (I'm not entirely sure myself, since I haven't started doing research yet).

Survivor: Good questions. Those could all lead in interesting directions, in tandem or on their own. And thanks for the historical suggestions. I'll go prowl through my reference books again and see what I come up wtih.


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HSO
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Well, the good thing about the Shadow books is that they aren't out of sequence. All of the stuff that happens in Ender's Shadow is concurrent with Ender's Game, and the rest of the series is before Ender and Valentine ever make it to the world they are going to. So, technically, you could read Ender's Game, then Ender's Shadow and the rest of the Shadow series, and then go back to Speaker, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind.

In many ways, it's amazing that all of these books were the result of a short story that eventually became an award-winning novel: Ender's Game.

So, if anyone ever says that short fiction is a waste of time... "Pah!" I say. "Pah!"


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Survivor
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It wasn't really a short story, it was a shortish novella at a little over forty pages, if I recall.
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