Being a writer starts out with having fantasies— making up stories in your head. At first, we do it for our own amusement. It’s only later that we decide to write down some of our fantasies and become Real Writers.
The biggest influence on my early making-up-stories was the original Star Trek series. As a kid, I often went on long walks through my neighborhood or a nearby woods, making up a Star Trek story all the time. Of course, these stories were silly. If I had written any down, they would be embarrassing. Kids’ fantasies are like that.
Since I was a big Star Trek fan, I watched the episodes over and over, and internalized the rules of that particular science fiction universe. I loyally ignored the weird, contradictory stuff- like the fact that the Enterprise had an actual chapel but no chaplain or even visiting priests, pastors or rabbis. Over the years of making up stories, my Star Trek stories became better. Though they also became less like the Official Star Trek canon and more like what I wished Star Trek was like.
At a certain point in my later childhood, I decided I was a general science fiction fan and tried to read other science fiction. Didn’t always have luck finding stuff I liked. I remember one story where a space traveller discovered that the Star of Bethlehem was a supernova that destroyed an inhabited planetary system. And then there was The Cold Equations, where the stowaway girl-character I thought of as the main character has to be killed to save other lives.
I eventually discovered stories I did like. Some, like the Darkover series by She Who Must Not Be Named, I can no longer bear to read when I discovered unpleasant realities about the author in a book written by her daughter, Moira Greyland. So I had to find other authors. Like Declan Finn, Karina Fabian, Daniella Bova and Jill Williamson.
But my mental Star Trek stories have persisted all these years. I used to have plans to write one of those Star Trek novels from Pocket Books. I used to read and collect them compulsively. But for a few years I didn’t buy new ones due to a bookstore shortage in my area. I recently bought a new Star Trek novel and saw that the series had been utterly ruined. The novel showed what should have been an exciting action sequence. But a character was wasting time worrying about what pronoun she should use while THINKING about unisexual aliens— she chose a newly invented ‘alternative’ pronoun. I chose not to waste my money on such drivel again. Real action heroes don’t waste time worrying about THINKING the wrong thing.
Since I’ve been aware for years that my mental stories now contain a lot of original content— persistent characters who never appear in Star Trek, an interplanetary system that’s nothing like the United Federation of Planets, a space fleet that is not taxpayer supported but has to support itself by hauling trade goods from planet to planet….. I’ve been working for some years on creating an original setting and character group that I can use as a replacement for my unoriginal Star Trek stuff so I can write an original space opera novel or series.
I think that many of use writers are working through something similar. We have long connections to other people’s fiction that stimulates our own creative side. And then we must cut the cord and create something original to take its place, We have to think about what it is about those other people’s fiction that inspires us, and what parts we don’t like so much or that we could replace with something we like better. And then we have to take that flood of ideas we have and make them consistent. For example, if Christians are widely persecuted in your universe, you can’t have Christian leaders wielding great power without explanation. Perhaps you can have persecution in most places and Christians-with-power in others.
The thing to remember is that your writing is first about YOU. What you like, what stimulates your imagination to produce ever-more ideas. You have to shape your ideas so that there are at least some groups of readers who can enjoy your work, but you shouldn’t be writing stuff you can’t stand. You probably can’t do that over the long term, and even if you can, you won’t enjoy it.
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