Writing Space Opera According to Ann Leckie & Cat Rambo

Cat Rambo, President of the SFWA, features some awesome SFF authors in On Demand classes available from her website. Her latest featured Ann Leckie on Space Opera.  Leckie’s space opera novel Ancillary Justice won just about every award in the SFF field a couple of years ago.  The following quotes Cat Rambo’s Twitter thread featuring highlights of the class:

Brian Aldiss on : “Science Fiction is a big muscular horny creature, with a mass of bristling antennae and proprioceptors on its skull. It has a small sister, a gentle creature with red lips and a dash of stardust in her hair. Her name is Space Opera.”

While that’s got a funky gender essentialism to him, there’s also some truth. Ann’s definition: “Space opera is beautiful and glittery and fun and that’s kind of the point.”

Creating the space opera backdrop: planets are not monocultures. Our own Earth has thousands of cultures. Can’t go w/ “planet of the hats” approach, i.e. “On this planet everyone wears big hats.”  

Research tip: go to museums and look at objects. Their physicality, their textures, their material consideration and dimensions. Use those details in creating your world(s).

Not the original gif, but close.

In a room, include things for your char to put down and drink and eat and throw, As characters interact with objects they acquire emotional and perhaps thematic significance.

You don’t need to frontload everything in the story. Provide it as the reader needs it.

Repetition of an object can provide a sort of structural support for the work.

There’s nothing wrong with a good infodump. Make it beautiful and interesting and entertaining.

Doing an exercise right now where people think of one assumption about their world and then develop three things that would grow out of that. I.e. an all-ocean world might have more difficulty restricting travel than a mountains one.

Another example: what did the first colony on this planet look like and how did they shape history after them? Different groups might have different foci, intentions, priorities.

The future isn’t necessarily logical.

Reasons to have multiple worlds: indicate vast scope, create space for a physical journey, play around with cool stuff, worlds constructed to be eyeball kicks and sources of wonder.

Not the same gif.

Everyone has had so much fun with this class exercise; it is awesome.

Space opera that Ann has been reading lately includes Yoon Ha Lee’s Raven Strategem, upcoming Arkay Martine’s A Memory Called Empire, and martha Wells’ Murderbot Diaries.

When working in a thing that’s not your own experience, you may or may not want to think about sensitivity reader. You don’t want to inadvertently punch someone in the face, metaphorically or not.  

Tracking all the details of worlds in space opera – what do you do when wall post-its fail? Ann uses Tiddlywiki – https://tiddlywiki.com/

How many POVs is too many in ? The answer is: how many can you, personally, handle without getting lost or confused or tied up?

But it’s also perfectly fine to use a single POV.

One thing Ann wishes is that more newbie writers would realize that omniscient point of view is a possibility. But omni POV has fallen out of style.

“Avoid head-hopping” is advice for handling third person POV, not omniscient. Omni POV can help create that wide scope you want in .

Omni is not “anything can go down on the page.” It is its own type of narrator.

Establishing POV: establish the strategy up front and the reader can go along for the ride.

You don’t have to explain everything. You can mention a thing and leave it hanging. You don’t have to describe how every light switch works.

Ann on revision and critiques: Look at what your beta readers are telling you the problem is versus what you are trying to convey on the page.

Ann’s finishing by talking about ht get better and the idea of intentional practice, looking at one aspect carefully and perfecting it. i.e. “My visual details are lacking, so I’m going to focus on those, write some, and look at how other writers have done it.”

“Analyze, and then steal.”

Ann’s pointed us at a particular random name generator here:

I’ll finish up with a video clip from the on-demand version talking about that original Aldiss quote, if you’re interested.

If that intrigues, here’s a coupon for 25% off that on-demand one, good thru next month.

If you want to make sure you find out next time Ann offers the live version, signing up for my newsletter or watching the Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers FB page is your best bet. Thanks & I hope this was useful!

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