I love learning how other authors research real life to find the little details that help with worldbuilding, especially for Science Fiction, Fantasy, or (Yipes!) Horror. Today, Author James Austin McCormick is sharing a bit about how he goes about crafting his stories:
I tend to write speculative fiction and usually the world or the setting I place my story in comes from my imagination. In fact, the more world building I can do the more I enjoy myself.
The only time I’ve ever actually done any factual research is when I wrote my horror novel, Balec. The story is set in Manhattan and I needed to lean the geography for my story, where the protagonist’s (a private detective, a mix of Philip Marlow and Jack Reacher) office was, where his ex-wife’s home was based and most importantly where the bad guy’s (a dark sorcerer) mansion was located.
Scripting a Story
Apart from this factual research I’ve also studied screenplay writing quite extensively and have read many, many books on the subject. One of them suggested basing a script on a favourite film. You had to watch the film with the pause button ready, taking notes along the way and recording the running time as you did so. This involved identifying the three acts, the inciting incident, the two plot or turning points, the scene charges (do they open on a low or a high, and if so does that charge reverse itself at the end of the scene?) and the mid-point or point of no return.
I did this for a science fiction/ comedy film I love called Space Truckers. The result of that was I wrote a script called Sunstorm, the logline being “A small time smuggler lands a high-priced contract but is hunted by an inhuman assassin intent on stopping him at all costs.” I later wrote a novella version of the script called Sunfall, and because of all the research and preparation I’d put into this story, it’s undoubtedly the leanest and most structured prose I’ve ever written.
Blurb for Sunfall:
As democracy is swept away by a powerful Corporate League, a small section of society holds onto the libertarian dream, establishing an independent colony on Mars. Yet their time is running out. A solar storm called “Sunfall” is about to strike, powerful enough to wipe out every last one of them.
Their only hope is Sana, a young, idealistic scientist and creator of a terra-forming device capable of giving Mars its own protective shield. With just days until the storm hits, she teams up with a two bit smuggler named Zak, who, for the right price, agrees to get her to Mars.
The League, however, have their own sinister plans for the red planet and unleash their Raijin, a near invulnerable, hybrid super-assassin, to hunt down and kill them.
As the chase continues only Zak’s ingenuity and flying skills can keep them alive, but for how long?
Zac Adams wasn’t happy as he worked on his cybernetic arm, moving the laser tool between the complicated, internal circuits. Although only twenty and fresh faced, the weary look in his eyes and sullen angle of his mouth often made him appear older.
He grimaced, running a hand over blond spiky hair as he listened to the cold, female voice on the come link.
“Come on, lady,” he protested. “Give a feller a break.”
“Turn your craft around now, Mr. Adams,” the humorless voice replied.
Zac muttered expletives to himself as he finished welding a circuit. He put the laser down and flexed his machine arm experimentally. “You ain’t serious?” There was a pause.
“I am very serious. You’ve been deemed an undesirable and as such are not welcome at Salam Space Port.”
Zac sat forward. “Undesirable?” he spluttered. “Listen, is this about those unpaid docking fees? I can explain.”
There was a crackle of static. “I have no interest in excuses,” came the reply.
Zac closed the panel on his forearm and rolled the sleeve over a heavy duty flight jacket. He covered the cybernetic hand with a glove. “Just let me drop my haul lady. I can make good.”
“Kindly address me as Ms. Sibek,” the unseen woman scolded him, “not lady.” Then, with a hint of softening, “you’re carrying a shipment?”
Zac nodded. “Yeah,” he said indignantly.
There was a pause and then, “Very well,” Sibek told him. “You may proceed. You will stay within the designated lanes.”
The young pilot grinned. “Much obliged.”
On the fringes of the atmosphere a small, beat up old ship dived towards Earth, skillfully weaving in and out of debris and satellites. A space station glided over the horizon. The craft corkscrewed around it before continuing on its journey.
~ * ~
Olga Sibek was a tall, bony, almost sexless woman in a shoulder padded, androgynous uniform. As she marched towards Zac she resembled a long legged wading bird in search of prey. An insect like droid crept along beside her. Zac gave them a nod of greeting as he leaned against his craft.
The woman ignored him, instead turning to her robotic assistant.
“Impound it,” she ordered.
The droid stretched out a clawed limb and placed a scarab device across the hull. Metal tentacles shot outwards, spreading across the hatchway.
“My cargo,” Zac cried.
Sibek snorted. “Contraband, no doubt,” she shot back. “We’ll find out exactly what you’re smuggling soon enough.”
The young pilot ran a hand over his spikes. “That’s why you let me land,” he gasped. “You set me up.”
The bony woman glanced at him. “As I said, you’re an undesirable, one that needs to be dealt with.” She indicated the digi-pad she was carrying. “Everything’s perfectly in accordance with port authority rules.” Her nostrils flared in triumph.
Zac looked from her to the ship several times; incredulous, then suddenly snatched the pad from her. “You reckon?” Fighting off the official’s attempts to reclaim the pad, he scrolled down the digital pages. Finally he tapped a line. “Twenty four hours lady,” he told her. “I got me one day to make good.”
Sibek snatched it back, pretending to read the section. Her features grew pinched. “It appears you’re correct,” she muttered. “Very well, one day to pay your debts. Then we take your ship.” Her scowl slowly morphed into something that might be interpreted as a grin. She looked at the droid.
“The craft remains sealed until then.” With that she turned and strode away. The metal insect lumbered after her.
Zac stood motionless, staring after them, as he tried to digest what just happened. He was still trying to make sense of it when he heard the laughter echo through the bay. He turned to see a heavy built, brutal looking man in corporation fatigues wiping down a sleek fighter craft.
The man rubbed his hands on the cloth and regarded the young pilot with amused contempt.
“Your drunk, red neck pa would be so proud of you kid,” he laughed.
Zac’s face colored. “Least I ain’t sold myself to the Corporate League Kang.”
Paperback from the Publisher’s website: http://www.classactbooks.com/component/virtuemart/science-fiction/sunfall-4602014-04-14-01-27-53-detail?Itemid=0
About the Author:
James Austin McCormick is a college lecturer from Manchester, England and his free time enjoy writing speculative fiction, mostly science fiction, horror and a little sword and sorcery fantasy. He is also a particular fan of classic Gothic and Victorian horror tales and is currently in the process of writing updated versions of these with a science fiction spin.
Find out more about James at: