Staying Ahead of the Future

photo-1427501482951-3da9b725be23My childhood was filled with Star Wars and Star Trek. Later I discovered Stargate. Some of my favorite authors are Isaac Asimov and Ray Bradbury. Science fiction is my favorite genre to read, watch, and write. It has been an important part of my childhood and one my favorites parts of my life now.

The future is always an interesting prospect. Whether we are living in fear of where our technology will take us or we are excited for humanity’s next great steps. Writers are constantly trying to create their own versions of the future. They make up advanced technology that seems light-years beyond anything we have now. Unfortunately, we often catch up to science fiction or prove parts of it completely wrong.

Star Trek is a great example of this. We have the computer technology that their starships have. Our phones are actually better than their communicators. Their science is now our science. Now I watch Star Trek and I always laugh a little bit at their technology and how advanced they thought it was. So as science fiction writers how do we deal with creating technology that is believable but still futuristic enough to stay ahead of the real world?

I think that the most important factor in developing science fiction technology is staying current with the technology our world is developing now. You can do this by just keeping up with the news to see what major breakthroughs are happening. I like to get updates from major science research organizations like MIT, NASA, and DARPA. These organizations are creating things I didn’t even know was possible.

The second most important factor for creating science fiction technology is staying caught up with what other science fiction writers are developing. Science fiction stories are often defined by having a unique element that sets it apart. Usually this manifests itself into something iconic. Star Wars has lightsabers. Stargate has, well, stargates. iRobot has artificial intelligence. These are all concepts which appear in various forms in many stories but each of them takes a unique spin on the concept and that is what is important. Making it unique.

If I was going to start wrapping this up I would also state that science fiction is never going to be perfect. It is human nature to advance. I should hope that the science fiction writers who got to live long enough to see their creations become a reality should be proud.

Science fiction can be a lot of fun. You can theorize about a different future than we are look at. You can try to create a realistic future and predict humanity’s path. But whatever the purpose of your story it will always be critical to set it apart. There may be nothing new under the sun; but I think there may be a lot of new ways to look at our future. I would love to hear about your favorite science fiction elements.

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What is a Hero?

Hero and Protagonist: Two Sides of the Same Coin

Hero of Old
Hero of Old

Storytelling is my craft. I study stories. I discuss stories. I create stories. Universal themes are always found in storytelling. One of those things that every story must have is a protagonist. Every story has to be about something and generally that works best if that something is a person. But not every story has to be about a hero.

A story must always have a protagonist in my mind. Before anyone gets confused by my ramblings I will give my definition of a protagonist: “A protagonist is the character or subject in a story which experiences the most change from the beginning to end of the story.”

Stories do not have to center around the one who saves the day. Those stories are dime a dozen, some are good and others are bad. I want to see stories about people who change or grow. I like it when this is the hero but sometimes the stronger story happens when it isn’t. Often because of the use of a strong redemptive story but that is a topic for another day.

Examples of stories that have protagonists which are definitely not heroes include, The Prestige and The Godfather. The Prestige follows two opposing magicians who go to greater and greater lengths to beat the other. Both of them spiral almost to the point of madness in this pursuit. They experience great change but neither of them have any shred of heroism left at the end. The Godfather is truly at its heart an analysis of how a good man becomes a hardened criminal. Both are phenomenal stories but neither of them have any room for heroes as their protagonists.

So if primary focus and change are what makes someone the protagonist then what makes them a hero? Is it them doing what they believe is right? No, most villains believe that they are doing what is right. I believe there are three elements which give a face to the hero side of the protagonist coin.

The first and most important element needed for a hero is for there to be an absolute sense of morality. The entire world could be insane and a Nietzche-esc paradise of nihilism but if there is to be a hero then he must recognize an absolute sense of right and wrong that is supported by the events that take place.

The second element is that the hero must partake in a redemptive story. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t have to be his redemptive story. Elements of redemption are the among the strongest factors that can be used in a story. Whether it is a broken sidekick becoming whole or the villain coming to a point of realization and regret or it might be the hero finding redemption for some aspect of his life.

The last element which defines a hero is self-sacrifice. It is a very physical act that sets a character apart from others. Self preservation is a key attribute of most living creatures. Pushing against this calls out to the existence of a cause greater than one life. But it becomes terribly cliche if the hero always sacrifices himself. Instead it is more important for the hero to come into contact with self-sacrifice and is changed because of it.

There is a small summary of my thoughts on the heroic protagonist. Not every story will have a heroic protagonist and I don’t think every story should. Many people may disagree with my defining elements of a heroic protagonist. I would love to hear any thoughts regarding it. Understanding story is an ever-changing process and I would love to have someone help my understanding evolve. Thanks for reading.