Monday, November 24, 2014

What Interstellar Can Teach Writers About World Building

by Michelle Murrain, Author of the Science Fiction Novel, Friends With Wings.

No worries, there are no spoilers in this post. Alongside many science fiction fans and writers, I saw the movie Interstellar. It was a fun movie, with a great story line, and fascinating concepts to think about. It's about a common science fiction trope: Earth is dying, so let's go somewhere else to start over fresh. I've used that trope in my most recent novel, "Friends with Wings." Even though I consider it one of the better science fiction movies to come out this year, Interstellar does have its flaws. There have been plenty of critiques of the basic physics in the movie, and I'm not going to talk about those. I'm going to talk about problems in basic world building in Interstellar. Problems that writers should be aware of.

Movies can get away with shoddy world building much more easily than novels can. Flashy effects and star power make it much too easy to skimp on detailed world building. And also, some flaws in world building are put there just for the drama, which takes away from a movie. Some movies manage to do great world building anyway, but Interstellar isn't, sadly, one of them. There are two specific pretty inarguable world building flaws in the movie Interstellar I wanted to highlight, because they are actually relatively common kinds of pitfalls writers can fall into.

The first flaw has to do with the movie's premise of Earth, and what's happening on Earth because of climate change. In the movie, a blight has killed all of the food plants except for corn. And so for years, all that could grow was corn, and all people could eat was corn (Many years - it seems like more than 20). Sounds interesting, except that everyone would die of malnutrition within a period of months if all there was to eat was corn. It's not a complete protein, and does not provide other necessary nutrients. A population could not survive for years on just corn.

The second flaw has to do with the premise that the world has gotten so bad, that there aren't any armies anymore. The problem with this premise is that based on everything we know about history, the exact opposite is going to happen. When resources get scarce, people fight over what's left. The last thing the US government will do when faced with the ravages of climate change will be to disband the military.

These are just two of the major flaws in world building I noticed. I'm sure there are others. These flaws are based on not really thinking about whether or not a specific premise makes sense, based on what we know to be true - whether it be because of history, biology, psychology, what have you. World building is an art, but it's also a science. You have to do research, and make sure your ideas make sense. You should make sure that things fit, and work, with what we know now to be true.

ABOUT THE BOOK: Friends with Wings by Michelle Murrain

What if you were stranded on another planet? What would do? How would you live? And how would you deal with the intelligent native winged species on the planet?

The year is 2102, the earth is in crisis, and Trina, a gutsy young woman from a poor family, is forced to sell herself into slavery to pay off her family’s debt. To her surprise, she ends up being sent into space to help colonize a star. Her future seems bright until crisis strikes the colony – leaving Trina the only human being left alive on Planet Johannes. Another spaceship is slated to arrive in a decade, but how will Trina survive alone for ten years? And even if she does, how can she keep the next colony from meeting the same fate?

Read an excerpt here


Michelle has been writing science fiction since 2006, and has been an avid reader and fan of science fiction since she started to read. She has been both a scientist and a technologist by trade, and she even went to seminary. So as a polymath, her interests span a wide range of topics, including science, technology, religion and spirituality, philosophy, history, culture, politics, race, gender, and sexuality. She brings all of these to bear in her science fiction writing. She specializes in stories of culture clash and/or first contact, and her work has numerous strong female protagonists and characters, as well as a lot of diverse characters. She lives in Sonoma County, California with her spouse and 2 cats. Find out more about Michelle here:

Thanks so much for this wonderful guest post, Michelle. You’ve made some excellent points and given us some terrific writing tips to consider.

I’ve got family coming in for the holiday all week, which means I probably won’t be online much from here on out for a couple of days. Happy Thanksgiving to all those celebrating. Mine will be busy with family, food and festivities, something I look forward to hosting every year.

Best to all,

M. J.

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