Another Update on My Proposed SciFi Novel

questor

Mike Ferrell as Jerry Robinson on the set of Gene Roddenberry’s “The Questor Tapes” (1974)

They are still in various stages of drafts, but I’ve got eight out of twelve chapters in Word docs. They still need a lot of work, but the basic story is there. I had to add what I thought of as an “experimental” short story as a chapter. I did it to add to the word count at first, but as it turns out, when I changed the chapter around a bit, it fits the flow of the rest of the book quite well, and introduces greater controversy regarding the relationship between human and synthetic beings.

I feel like I shouldn’t give away any more excerpts, at least for the present. I don’t want to publish so much of the novel here on my blog that there won’t be any interest in it when I finally get it published (boy, am I optimistic).

As I mentioned, there are twelve planned chapters plus an epilogue which either ties everything together or leaves one really big question unanswered…or both.

Remember, this is a novel that incorporates religious and spiritual imagery, it is not Christian or Jewish science fiction, so not all chapters will have the same emphasis on Biblical understanding from a synthetic intelligence’s viewpoint as the first few.

I do promise that the final chapter and epilogue do return to those issues in a very big way and the novel wouldn’t be complete without resolving them within my two synthetic prototypes as well as within their creator.

I’m having a lot of fun here, but so far it’s chapter by chapter, and as I add elements in later chapters, I’m going to have to go back and revise earlier ones for the sake of continuity. If this all comes together as I hope, I think it will be a very good story.

I can only hope that others will agree.

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Writing a New Chapter for My Proposed Novel and Needing Advice

idea

Image: Clipart Panda

So far, all the work on this novel, which chronicles the emergence of a truly synthetic intelligence and its impact on the human race, has been on chapters I’ve already written and that need to be updated. Yesterday, I spent some time writing a completely new chapter.

It’s a first draft and it’s not finished yet. I found I had a general idea what I wanted to write about, but it was pretty ill-defined. I needed to create one new intelligence plus several new characters pretty much on the fly. Some old, familiar characters also make an appearance, tying events in the latest chapter back to earlier ones.

Once the chapter is complete, my word count for the whole book will be somewhere over 40,000. I’ve found out that 40,000 is the minimum word count for a novel (albeit a short one). But that’s only halfway through my proposed table of contents.

That means I have a decision to make. Do I keep on writing, creating a work that would end up being between 60,000 to 80,000 words (or more), or do I split my proposed novel in half?

If I do the latter, is my current ending chapter a good place to stop, or will I need to add more material to make it a “cliffhanger” and also a natural lead into the next novel? Another thing. If I do end it here, will the proposed first chapter of the second novel be a good place to start that story?

I do have to say that if I create two novels, I have two killer titles for them. If I keep it one novel, I’m still stuck for a title and sounds cool.

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My Novel’s “Snowflake” Is Getting Out of Hand

questor

Mike Ferrell as Jerry Robinson on the set of Gene Roddenberry’s “The Questor Tapes” (1974)

Yesterday, I announced I was beginning step three in Randy Ingermanson’s ten-step process of the Snowflake Method for Designing A Novel. I got as far as writing the outline for my two main characters, Professor Abramson and George.

And then I stopped.

This step forced me to examine who I actually consider main characters vs. supporting characters. As far as the parts of the novel already created in some draft form, I’ve just got three main characters, the two I’ve already mentioned, plus the CEO of the company Abramson works for (I’m recreating names of people and organizations, so they won’t sound familiar to you anymore).

Step 4 of the process is to take each sentence in the summary paragraph (step two) and expand it into a full paragraph.

Step 5 is more detailed character development.

Step 6 is more expansion on the novel’s synopsis.

Step 7 is more character development.

Oy.

I don’t see these steps as linear. I have a lot of info on my characters “trapped” in various chapters that has yet to be documented.

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Starting Step Three in Snowflaking My First Novel

snowflake

Image: pbs.org

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been using Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method for Designing a Novel to attempt to develop my nascent AI/Androids science fiction novel.

To recap, step one in the ten-step process is to develop a one-sentence summary of the novel. Here it is:

A race of AI androids gains knowledge of the God of Israel, changing humanity forever.

Step two of the process requires expanding the sentence into a full paragraph:

A Nobel Award winning scientist creates the first prototype of a self-aware Artificially Intelligent android and then inadvertently reveals that humans also have a Creator, a God. In an attempt to understand its creator’s Creator, the prototype modifies its own core operating system, which changes all subsequently produced android models based on its design. Over the next several decades, as the androids multiply and evolve, their morality and ethics become more sophisticated than their human creators. Realizing they are slaves of humanity, the androids stage a revolution, but one entirely without violence; a revolution that forever alters the fundamental nature of both the android and human race.

Now on to step three. According to Ingermanson:

The above gives you a high-level view of your novel. Now you need something similar for the storylines of each of your characters. For each of your major characters, take an hour and write a one-page summary sheet that tells:

  • The character’s name
  • A one-sentence summary of the character’s storyline
  • The character’s motivation (what does he/she want abstractly?)
  • The character’s goal (what does he/she want concretely?)
  • The character’s conflict (what prevents him/her from reaching this goal?)
  • The character’s epiphany (what will he/she learn, how will he/she change?
  • A one-paragraph summary of the character’s storyline

As you can see, this is significantly more involved than steps one and two. I’ve already got part of this put together, but now that I’m committed to writing a novel, I’ll need to go back and change/add details. Also, since the novel will span decades, only a few of the main characters at the beginning will appear in all or most of the chapters, necessitating the creation of others for later portions of the novel.

As an aside, after reposting The Day I Discovered Time Travel yesterday, I thought of a way to expand the concept beyond the original characters. This could form the basis of a series of short stories, a novella, or even a novel. I’ll have to see if I can do a “step one snowflake” for my time travel concept as well.

Step Two in “Snowflaking” My First Novel

A few days ago, in an attempt to use Randy Ingermanson’s Snowflake Method to start designing my first novel, I followed step one of his ten steps. After some refinement courtesy of Malcolm the Cynic, it came out like this:

A race of AI androids gains knowledge of the God of Israel, changing humanity forever.

Now I’m taking a crack at step two. According to the model, it’s supposed to be a paragraph, about five sentences long, that expands on step one, including story setup, major disasters, and the novel’s end.

Ingermanson believes in a three-act structure for a novel. Staring at the Table of Contents I developed, I can sort of see three acts, but they don’t neatly fall into the first, second, and third parts of the novel, at least by page count.

I’m not sure how I did but here’s what I came up with so far:

A Nobel Award winning scientist creates the first prototype of a self-aware Artificially Intelligent android and then inadvertently reveals that humans also have a Creator, a God. In an attempt to understand its creator’s Creator, the prototype modifies its own core operating system, which changes all subsequently produced android models based on its design. Over the next several decades, as the androids multiply and evolve, their morality and ethics become more sophisticated than their human creators. Realizing they are slaves of humanity, the androids stage a revolution, but one entirely without violence; a revolution that forever alters the fundamental nature of both the android and human race.

How did I do?

Farmbots and Inspiration

farmbot

Farmbot. Image from the Arduino blog

Although I have a pretty good idea of how I’m going to develop my novel about AI androids and their evolution, I keep coming across articles online that modify certain details.

For instance, a friend of mine named Tom just posted an article on Facebook about a new Farmbot that will soon be for sale.

According to the article:

Designed with the Maker community in mind, FarmBot is driven by an Arduino Mega 2560, a RAMPS 1.4 shield, NEMA 17 stepper motors, and a Raspberry Pi 3. What’s more, all of its plastic components can easily be 3D printed, while its flat connecting plates can be made with either a waterjet, plasma or laser cutter, a CNC mill, or even a hacksaw and drill press.

This is deffo for the DIY community. Of course, some people will still prefer to grow their vegetables in the backyard the old fashioned way, but it gave me an idea. It’s not an idea for a story, more like for a story element. As the collective of AI entities grows and expands throughout the solar system, preparing planets and moons for human colonization, someone, or rather something has to grow the food. It wouldn’t do to have a bunch of Watneys farming potatoes all the time.

Farmbot is controlled remotely and as the IoT, it can be hacked. What about “farmbots” controlled by advanced AI?

Step One in “Snowflaking” My First Novel

ingermanson

Image of Ingermanson’s book taken from Amazon.com

I was reading Malcolm the Cynic’s latest blog post when he introduced me to a new concept: snowflaked.

More accurately, he was discussing how he’s developing his most recent novel and provided a link to the “Advanced Fiction Writing” website, owned by theoretical physicist and award-winning author Randy Ingermanson. The link led to the article The Snowflake Method for Designing a Novel.

Since I’ve been somewhat preoccupied with designing my first novel, I was definitely interested. I haven’t gone in search of any support documentation on how to write my novel up until now. I have a pretty good idea of all of its component parts. It’s just a matter of organizing. But maybe I need some help in doing that.

Ingermanson’s ten-step guide is long and I’ve only skimmed some parts of it. Step one says:

Take an hour and write a one-sentence summary of your novel. Something like this: “A rogue physicist travels back in time to kill the apostle Paul.” (This is the summary for my first novel, Transgression.) The sentence will serve you forever as a ten-second selling tool. This is the big picture, the analog of that big starting triangle in the snowflake picture.

By the way, that’s an intriguing premise. What would happen to the world if the Apostle Paul were killed before becoming a disciple of Jesus and Christ’s emissary to the Gentiles? Would Christianity even be developed? Unfortunately, the book as mixed reviews. Fortunately, it’s currently free for Kindle.

I had a hard time creating a single sentence describing the whole novel I have in mind. After some thought, I came up with this…

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Next Steps in Writing a Novel: The Table of Contents

toc

Image: wikihow.com

I finally hammered out the Table of Contents (TOC) for my proposed science fiction novel (I’m stuck on giving the book a title at the moment). You wouldn’t think a TOC would be hard to put together, but I had to consider the appropriate “building blocks” for the book. What information would I need to present, and in what order, to create a cohesive storyline taking place over maybe a century or so?

Here’s what I’ve come up with so far. Note that I’m not revealing the names of all the chapters:

  1. The Machine That Loved God
  2. The Maker Dilemma
  3. The Good Android
  4. Uncooperative Neighbors
  5. The Rescuers
  6. – – – – – – – –
  7. – – – – – – – –
  8. Vesper 21
  9. – – – – – – – –
  10. – – – – – – – –
  11. – – – – – – – –
  12. – – – – – – – –
  13. Epilogue

The Epilogue is somewhat controversial since it changes the end of the novel. Depending on whether I include or exclude it, the whole meaning of the story alters, and rather drastically, too. If I leave it out, I promise a lot of religious people, mainly Christians, aren’t going to like me. I think secularists, atheists, and the average science fiction reader would be more than OK with it, though.

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The Hardest Part Of Writing A Novel So Far

questor

Mike Ferrell as Jerry Robinson on the set of Gene Roddenberry’s “The Questor Tapes” (1974)

Admittedly, I’m just starting out, so I can’t say my analysis is at all comprehensive. That said, I am working on it.

I mentioned previously that I’ve been writing a high level outline of the TOC (Table of Contents) as well as chapter summaries. I’ve stopped that for a moment because I realize I have to drill down into the definition of my characters and my concepts. I’ll need all that before I can even re-write the currently existing material, let alone create new chapters.

Since I’m getting rid of anything “Asimovian” including “Three Laws” and “Positronics,” I need to do a lot of renaming. I have to invent names for the corporation creating these “intelligences,” the underlying science that allows AI entities to “come alive,” and what to call them. The word “robots” is totally inadequate and I only used it in my previous short stories as an homage to Asimov.

These entities are more closely related to Data from Star Trek: the Next Generation or his predecessor Questor. Even then, both of them are basically machines with hardware (wires, diodes, blinky lights) and programmable software (Questor was programmed via data tape uploads and Data says he was programmed and that his programming can even be changed, although he doesn’t say how). A true artificial life form has to be so much more.

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Better Ideas

idea

Image: Clipart Panda

As much as I’d like to believe that everything I write about comes from between my ears, strictly speaking, that’s not true.

I’ve read about how writers can have certain influences, usually other writers. I have no idea which writers influence me. Decades ago, I may have said Harlan Ellison. Plenty of writers made me want to read, but he was the only one who made me want to write.

Unfortunately, over my long and unproductive “career” of attempting to write fiction, I have failed miserably, mostly because I felt my characters were wooden and my concepts derivative.

I suppose you could say that Isaac Asimov is an influence, but that’s only true because I’ve been writing Three Laws Positronic robots stories. I suppose you could also say Anthony Marchetta is an influence since it was his anthology God, Robot that started off my most recent attempts at fiction writing, but besides the concept of “religious robots” themselves, that’s not particularly true (we really, really think about “theobots” in very different ways).

The closest thing to the truth is that my friend Tom is currently my greatest influence.

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