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Thread: Descriptive prose

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    Descriptive prose

    Any suggestions on how to invoke a sense of awe when talking about megastructures or natural astronomical phenomena in fiction?


    A lot of today's sci-fi seems to me like "Oh, another Dyson Sphere, yawn." I'd like to convey a sense of scale and wonder in my descriptions.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    Imagine yourself there. Think how you'd feel. Write it down.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Noclevername View Post
    Any suggestions on how to invoke a sense of awe when talking about megastructures or natural astronomical phenomena in fiction?


    A lot of today's sci-fi seems to me like "Oh, another Dyson Sphere, yawn." I'd like to convey a sense of scale and wonder in my descriptions.
    Show, don't tell is hard in a science fiction settings. First, you blow the mind of the reader with fantastic stuff, and then you throw the characters mind blowing stuff which makes them talk and talk and talk. There is the inclination to describe then guess at other things, on the part of the reader, author and the characters.

    If you had a disinterested narrator, you could dig into the show aspect making your Dyson Sphere something completely different that what has been presented before. Another tactic would be to make the characters show, not tell, by having them refuse to call a fantastic object by a known name. Just describe, not guess at anything. Something like how Walking Dead has no zombie mythology. We know they are zombies, but no one says it.

    Another way would be to have a portion of the scene described by self absorbed people. I know that sounds bad, but what if a character is sick or pregnant or supposed to get married soon and this thing arrives. It should turn the world on it's head, but your characters won't bite. They stay all clinical about that thing, while having emotional dialog reserved for their very personal situation. You characters are going to wise to whatever the thing is, but they won't take chances or assumptions. You have to make sure they aren't in the driver's seat, otherwise you end up with a "nuke them from orbit, just to be sure..." scenario.
    Solfe

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    all I can suggest is under playing the writing. It's hard enough to grasp the size of the Earth, let alone a Dyson sphere. Maybe go the next stage up and compare the Dyson sphere as a tiny seed in the galaxy......subtly getting the reader to see comparisons of size...

    Have you read Orbitsvill?
    Formerly Frog march.

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    Another thought occurs to me, try reading "Hills Like White Elephants". The characters describe a situation without ever saying what it is, then investigate all kinds of future possibilities. It's cold and dark, perhaps well over the "neutral" setting you are looking for.

    It is all of three pages long, so it's a quick read.

    If you wrote brief snippets as "flash fiction", that could give you the vibe you are looking for. Introductory information which is set apart from the story telling process, a completely different style for a brief section, and then back to the actual story. Alistair Reynolds uses this method to good effect.
    Solfe

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    Poul Anderson had so many flashes of this kind that I sort of watch for them and try to soak them in on re-reading. Combinations of color, visual scale, and multiple aspects of the scene described. Somehow Andromeda ends up as "banked fires" often enough to remember, which makes me think Anderson was familiar with Walter Baade's description of its inner parts from Mount Wilson as the color of a forest fire.

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    Money!

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    Quote Originally Posted by peteshimmon View Post
    Money!
    ???
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    Randall Munroe, of XKCD fame, uses a technique of being alarmingly specious when describing some things. It makes the sense of scale very visceral.

    Which of the following would be brighter, in terms of the amount of energy delivered to your retina:

    A supernova, seen from as far away as the Sun is from the Earth, or

    The detonation of a hydrogen bomb pressed against your eyeball?

    Applying the physicist rule of thumb suggests that the supernova is brighter. And indeed, it is ... by nine orders of magnitude.
    XKCD - https://what-if.xkcd.com/73/


    A boring way to say this would have been to simply say "at zero distance", but he makes that a very human experience with "pressed against your eyeball" - much more effective.

    I keep imagining how much it would hurt to have a billion hydrogen bombs touching my eyeball when they detonate.
    Last edited by DaveC426913; 2018-Sep-27 at 12:51 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveC426913 View Post
    Randall Munroe, of XKCD fame, uses a technique of being alarmingly specious when describing some things. It makes the sense of scale very visceral.


    XKCD - https://what-if.xkcd.com/73/


    A boring way to say this would have been to simply say "at zero distance", but he makes that a very human experience with "pressed against your eyeball" - much more effective.

    I keep imagining how much it would hurt to have a billion hydrogen bombs touching my eyeball when they detonate.
    wouldn't hurt one bit.
    Formerly Frog march.

    Newscaster: ... But I've just had a report that a representative of Disaster Area met with the environmentalists this morning and had them all shot, so now nothing stands in the way of the concert going ahead this afternoon on this beautiful sunny day.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveC426913 View Post
    I keep imagining how much it would hurt to have a billion hydrogen bombs touching my eyeball when they detonate.
    Wouldn't feel a thing. It would be over too quick to register.
    "I'm planning to live forever. So far, that's working perfectly." Steven Wright

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    Quote Originally Posted by DaveC426913 View Post

    I keep imagining how much it would hurt to have a billion hydrogen bombs touching my eyeball when they detonate.
    I don't think that having a billion hydrogen bombs touching your eyeball even before the detonated would be a very pleasurable experience...
    As above, so below

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    have you stood on a hill and contemplated the size of the Earth, noclever? I think a mega structure like a dysonsphere would dwarf that contemplation...
    Formerly Frog march.

    Newscaster: ... But I've just had a report that a representative of Disaster Area met with the environmentalists this morning and had them all shot, so now nothing stands in the way of the concert going ahead this afternoon on this beautiful sunny day.

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    In my classroom, the first thing I start with is the rules. They apply to everyone, at all times. Your prose has to do the same. The narrator and the characters need to follow the rules. Unless one of the characters is actually canned spam and what they do and say can't cause problems or distractions.

    If you are buzzing a mega structure, someone has to be at the controls doing "normal stuff" to make it happen. X-wing pilots chatter away, but their hands are making the ships go. "Look at the size of that thing!" doesn't even get said at the right time. Either they were too busy flying to say it on time or that comment slipped out in reference to something ON the Death Star that the audience doesn't see... or the author abandoned the rules. My guess is the author abandoned the rules. It still sounds great, so maybe little slips aren't that bad.

    Star Trek goes the other direction where someone is looking into a device and yammering away about this and that while everyone else fights like madmen to stop as whatever it is from killing the ship. Different perspective, but still follows the rules.
    Solfe

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