Here we are, back with more notes from ConCarolinas 2013! Please enjoy this discussion on technology and magic, how they conflict, and even more interesting, how they can work together.
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Technology vs. Magic
Susan Roddey, Allen Wold, James R. Tuck, Edward McKeown
Moderator: Faith Hunter
FH: Technology vs. Magic? More like Technology and Magic. In today’s market, you can’t eliminate one or another; there needs to be an appreciation of both. Thoughts?
EM: Science fiction: Tries not to break a law of physics you and I might be familiar with, unless there’s a really good reason, except for Faster Than Light which is a given. The audience can bail if what you're trying to do is too much of a stretch. It interferes with the emotional connection with the character, which is why we’re reading the story anyway.
FH: Sometimes we want our magical systems to work in today’s world. How do you do that?
SR: Leans towards mythology, gods and monsters. Not a technical person, so deals with the magical/mythological, gives her more breathing room when being told she can or can’t do a thing – dealing with gods and goddesses makes it easier.
JT: Actual magic is based on ritual. You need do do the ritual to build the energy to make it work. Magical items are like batteries to power spells, but they can run out of energy. Magic is the 5th law of physics, doesn’t obsess over that.
FH: Her character Jane Yellowrock needs to mind the mass in the shifting, because mass matters – addresses that for believability.
FH: Do you have any rules of thumb, Allen?
AW: Internal consistency. Also, if something can be explained, then it’s not magic, it’s technology. Be internally consistent. If you have explanations, you need to found your explanations on something believable. Don’t violate your own consistency.
FH: In this changing world of physics: Where do you research? What do you do to make it internally consistent?
EM: He won’t enslave science to dramatic purpose; that’s cheating and undercuts the science fiction, which is sloppy and a disservice to the reader.
JT: Would have just manipulated the time-space continuum: Research is to jog his memory. He’s done research as pleasure reading; now it’s just looking up what he’d read before to confirm details.
SR: Same as JT; she uses mythology from around world, and fits which mythology works best without bending the rules too much. It's easier to work with the original story. She twists it with her imagination to make her present fit that past.
AW: You have to do research because you don’t want to put out incorrect details. Reads a lot of science, and does research when he realizes he doesn’t have the answer. But if it’s something nobody knows (eg string theory) no one can prove him wrong.
FH: Making sure our work satisfies the reader is the most important. We’re in a commercial business and we want to sell books, not have someone throw the book across the room. How far do you go with your science, and how often do you draw back off the science? E.g. doesn’t start discussing the minute details of Jane’s shapeshifting. What Don’t you put in the books in order to show your research?
AW: Don’t include the research, include the results of the research.
JT: If main character doesn’t know it, we don’t know it either.
SR: Best example: sword and sorcery, magic, - in 8500 words, created 40 pgs of research. None of her history or backstory is ever seen. The magic/tech is only used if needed, but she lets research keep her organized.
EM: First thing he wants to know is “what’s impossible?” Wants to know why things are occurring. Sets a limit on the magic. It has to be diffiuclt to use or everyone would use it for every single thing
AW: What the character doesn’t know, the reader doesn’t have to know, either. Real magic, there are no explanation. D&D magic, that’s just physics by another name.
FH: How do you look at your own writing? What research elements do you need? Talk about your own magical systems. What laws of physics do you adhere to and what don’t you?
SR: Lucky’s Game: ancient mythology, aspects of a culture that is dead to us except what we have written down; works on the assumption that people had these abilities but have lost the knowledge of what to do. Male character is descended from magic; Main Character (female) is human and knows none of this.
JT: Deacon Chalk books – Deacon has only the very minor ability to sense supernatural. It doesn’t make sense. Magic is based on ritual, but if you don’t do the ritual, you don’t Crowley: Magic is inserting your will against the universe.
EM: Rations magic. One vampire in a city. To overdo the magic is to take away the perils and challenges the character has to overcome. Keep it believable.
AW: Magic is going to cost you just as much energy as you would to do it another way. – Really good magic, the price has been paid elsewhere. Any real magic, someone’s figured out how to pay the price.
FH: Wolves in small space; shows it. Just enough info as the story needs. Don’t explain everything at once. Even when writing a standalone. Layer out the disseminatinon of information.
EM: As long as the reader’s persuaded what the writer knows. E.g. the metallic taste in the mouth when firing a gun; shows that writer knows. Enough persuasive detail.
FH: The things we add and the things we leave out. How do you deal with the problem when you find you’ve made a mistake? E.g. shooting in low-cut blouse (gives a girl range kisses). When you find you’ve made a mistake, how do you address it?
JT: Just ignore it and move on.
Comment from author in the audience: Told everyone she made a mistake.
EM: A book’s like a rocket launch; once it’s out, just apologize. If you self publish electronically, just fix it, because you can upload the changes yourself. As long as the change doesn’t undermine the character, you're fine.
JT: Move on and work on the next thing.
SR: Learn from the mistake, pay attention next time. Fix it in the next book.
EM: Know the details.
FH: About the penalties of magic. Nothing can be easy. Limit the magic in the system. Even if you don’t know how it works. If you start ignoring the laws, you have a crappy system. What price do you exact of your characters?
SR: Her main character has the ability to move between worlds, but not the physiology, and it takes a toll.
EM: A guardian angel could help all the time, but it would make for a terrible story.
JT: Always having a physical cost is a mistake. Sometimes the magic’s got to have another cost, e.g. your soul (such as the cost of using black magic in his third Deacon Chalk novel).
FH: Has left lots of openings. Questions unanswered. Doesn’t close off everything because she hopes for more novels.
Audience Question: What do you do when it seems the characters want to take the story in a different direction?
EM: He's a prisoner of his characters; more concerned about running out of something to say.
JT: He's the merciless god of his universe; the characters do what he tells them to.