Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Donna’s Journal

Actions I’ve taken as a writer. Where am I? What am I doing?

I’ve been back at work on the body of my manuscript this week, struggling to get two key passages right between my battling hero and heroine. I’m almost there (whew!). Then it’s down the stretch with this draft and my other CP’s will be getting a request to look things over.

I must admit I’m distracted, though. Next week at this time we’ll all be talking about who got a nomination from RWA’s Golden Heart committee. I’ll be using this space to jump up and down in celebration or bemoan the fact that I fell short again this year. And, no, there’s not a chance in hell I’ll somehow forget what day it is.

So, since I won’t have another chance to remind those of you who might be interested, the deadline for the Virginia Romance Writers Fool for Love contest is April 1, two weeks from today. For more info, contact

New authors, cool web sites, great resources, great workshops, great online sites!

I’ve had reason to check out ( on any number of occasions and find it a great resource for all things science fiction. Need the title of a classic movie or book? A recommendation for an author you’d like? Got a niggling plot question or idea you what to check out? These are the folks for you. See below for the latest subject of interest I found on the site.

The Squeeze

Writers are sponges when it comes to soaking up writing tips and tricks. Here's where we squeeze out our sponges for the week.

An article by Charlie Jane Anders on the website ( ) lists “20 Great Info Dumps in Science Fiction Novels”. All of us involved in world-building see the info dump as at best a necessary evil and at worst a trap to be avoided at all cost. Anders takes the quandary of how to pass on mass quantities of details to your readers and asks what would the masters do? The answer is an intriguing variety of responses from William Gibson, Samuel R. Delany, Robert Heinlein, Ursula K. LeGuin, Phillip K. Dick, Vernor Vinge, Stephen King (?) and others.

Though the actual selections Anders offered were (mostly) short and to the point, even she admitted they weren’t particularly typical to the authors. She quotes Heinlein as warning his readers in Friday that one whole chapter is just a lecture and worth skipping. Too bad he didn’t learn that lesson much earlier, say in Stranger in a Strange Land. And Vernor Vinge? Really? She must have looked long and hard for a passage that wasn’t an info dump in one of Vinge’s books, which are fascinating, but an intellectual workout. Dialogue is limited to a few lines per chapter.

Stephen King is capable of drawing a character in one or two lines, but there’s a reason his books run to a thousand pages. I happen to love the portraits he paints now, and so do millions of others, apparently, but he started out with much shorter sketches. (And I’m not sure I’d classify King as an SF writer, but given Under the Dome, we’ll let that one pass.)

Which brings me to my point. For those of us writing science fiction romance, taking our cue on info dumps from SF is probably not the best writing advice. Science fiction readers have an extraordinarily high tolerance for long passages of dense information. It is a tolerance they share only with readers of techno-thrillers and economics texts. Not, I repeat, not romance readers. And, contrary to what some of those SF readers might think, it’s not because of any lack of intelligence on the part of the romance readers. It is a matter of preference. It’s not good or bad; it just is.

So. I’m writing a novel in which the science fiction and the romance are equally important. I know I must attract the romance audience. I do not want to lose them with three pages or one page or even three paragraphs of tech-heavy “how things work in my universe”, especially not early on. I might get away with a paragraph or two of internal monologue somewhere in a quiet moment deep in the book, but it better come between a hot love scene and a fight scene or I’m in trouble.

And here’s one thing for sure. If I don’t edit that stuff out, the first agent or contest judge to see it will. Or they’ll just send it back with a rejection, and I’ll be left to wonder why.

I have to be smarter than the average writer. I have to work it in gradually, make it appear seamless. The people who live in my world do not go around commenting on the wonders of their universe at every turn. They call a plasma injector a plasma injector and go about their business. Does the reader really need to know how it works in detail? Do you need to know how your telephone works to make a call? As a writer it’s my job to make the reader believe in the world I’ve created. Period. How I do that is my business. I’m a strong believer in smoke and mirrors. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain and we’ll all be happy. The End.

Cheers, Donna


  1. Amen, Donna. It's the balance of science and romance that makes Science Fiction Romance such an exceptional genre, instead of just being "an exception." The purpose of that high tech gadget and how it affects the characters is what matters. We can spare our readers the *yawn* mini-course in physics. :)

    I'm taking GH day off work. Figure I'd be useless and distracted anyway, so now I can spend my day talking to peers, and squeeing and virtual high fiving those who get the nod on Twitter and FB. For us romance writers, it's like a national holiday.

  2. Yes, you're right Donna. I am NOT going to plough through long explanations of how things work, or whlong-winded details of a planet's heirarchy - all impossible names included. I felt the same way about the first third of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I didn't want to know about companies and people who operated them etc etc. So ALL writers need to get the balance right between giving the reader enough information or boring them stupid. The best writers do as you say and filter in info gradually. There is nothing more likely to get an agent to stop reading than a history or science lesson in the first chapter. IMHO


Comments set on moderation - all spammers will be exterminated!

About Spacefreighters Lounge

Hosted by 5 Science Fiction Romance authors with 8 RWA Golden Heart finals and a RITA final between them. We aim to entertain with spirited commentary on the past, present, and future of SFR, hot topics, and our take on Science Fiction and SFR books, television, movies and culture.