A couple of weeks ago, I talked to a group of readers at the Saranac (MI) library. One fan asked if I would set any books in a different world from those in my Switched and Outer Rim series. I’d already written a short story for The Roses of Prose blog set in a different world. Afterward, I thought why not expand the short story into a novella.
Since I had the main characters—not fleshed out—and a basic plot, I could think more about the world. I’m a pantser, and that means I build my world as I write. Again, the basics were already in place. In the future, Earth needed to do something about the effects of population overload. NASA’s successor had already transformed Mars with domed habitats, but it was time to expand beyond our solar system to find that Goldilocks planet where humans could live free of artificial atmosphere. A planet that is not too hot, not too cold. A planet that is just right for humans.
The story begins on Titan, Saturn’s moon, the jumping off place for the Goldilocks Mission. There, three teams train, preparing for the trip to their designated planet. What did I know about Titan? Not much. So research became really important. Even though my characters couldn’t go out in the methane atmosphere I still had to write what the outside world was like—preferably accurate, because sharp readers will let you know mistakes, often in reviews.
I needed to know what would the habitats be like. Again, imagination along with what I could find out from the Mars One project filled in the details.
When I was in high school (college, even), I hated doing research. Dry texts, boring subjects. That’s what happens when you don’t get to choose your own topics. Or get to decide what about the topic you need to know. That’s how I research. I get to a spot in the story that needs more detail than I know. I can’t move on until I find out. Some writers advise inserting "[add more detail]" then keep going. Something in my makeup won’t let me.
If I plotted first, I would do all my research up front. I might even draw diagrams of the habitats. Alas, if I did, there might still be little details I hadn’t thought of. Or, I would have too much info and be tempted to include it in massive info dumps, as my critique partner often says.
I think my way is more practical. I look up what I need for that part of the story. But you know what happens when you research on the internet? You read the article, get what you need then—oh my goodness, links. Ooh, that one sounds interesting. Click. And that interesting article has more links. Click, click. Oops, I forget to check the other links attached to the original article. Click, click, click. So easy to get sidetracked.
Besides the internet searches, I found (to my dismay) another terrific source. The Great Courses. Their catalogs include videos and books on every possible subject. I need to warn you, though, don’t click on that link. If you do, you’ll learn why I’m dismayed. Because after you buy one item (not that I’ve only bought one), their catalogs keep coming. Some days that’s my only mail. Still, they offer great discounts and the topics are so interesting . . . Maybe I need to check out . . .
What’s wrong with doing all that research? I’m not writing the story. While it’s great to learn so much, especially about our solar system and the search for Goldilocks planets, I still need to finish the novella.
Here’s a little excerpt from Christmas on Serenity. The science fiction romance novella will be released before Christmas. I hope.
As I make my way down the corridor to our quarters, I stop at the narrow walkway between the Admin section and Crew Quarters to look out the viewport. Through the lighter-than-normal smog, I think I can see the hills of Xanadu near Titan’s equator. The techs say we’re too far away. Even so, I always search for landmarks when the smog lightens. This land is as foreign as that around Ares Station. From the pictures sent back by the probe of the Earth-like planet my team named Serenity, our new home will look as natural as Earth itself. I want so badly to believe the reports that the surface will have breathable air, that we’ll be able to walk outside without our enviro suits, that we can live there as we live on Earth.
Do you like to read a lot of info in a sci-fi romance story?
Diane Burton writes romantic suspense, mysteries, and (her favorite) science fiction romance. She blogs here on the 13th of the month, on The Roses of Prose on the 30th, and on her own blog every Monday, where she talks about any topic from baseball to mothers to Disney cruises.