Friday, February 25, 2011

Welcome Guest Author, AR Norris

Living in the Future…Beyond the Techie Monologue
By A.R. Norris

One of my biggest gripes about SF is the techie monologue. You know the one. The characters are going about their adventure and BAM! the narrator cuts into a 3-paragraph lesson -- if we’re lucky -- on the detailed mechanism of the lift devise, weapon, or communication system from the character’s POV. Ugh already! Yes, we know they’re in the future. Yes we know they have cool gadgets. And, yes, they get around in awesome ways.

But how often in your everyday do you think about your surroundings? Do you pause in writing your grocery list to think about the mechanisms of that pen or the adhesive technology of the post-it you’re using your pen to write on? No. Do you think about the engineering and materials of the highways (other than cursing about the road conditions)? Probably not. Do you stop and figure out exactly how the magical computer machine is processing and transferring your important information (or like me, the joke of the day)? No.


Because we’re human beings and we take these things for granted. As a reader, I like to see the characters take their futuristic gizmo’s and lifestyle for granted too…that way I can be jealous without being irritated or put to sleep at the same time. I don’t care the intricacies of the hyper drive system…I just want to visualize the sound and back pressing speed it makes the character hear and feel when it goes vroom. I don’t want to know how the alien’s DNA differs on the minute scale…just describe the wings, slimy skin, and/or multiple eyeballs and how the character reacts or doesn’t react to this appearance.

I’m telling you, for me, it adds a depth of realism to the story. By describing the intricate science behind the world, the writer is wasting word count proving our need to dispend belief. All they really had to do is show how natural the characters acclimated and don't think about the technology to show the natural validity of belief in the world.

I guess my main point, if I were to put it in a one-liner, is: The more humans don’t think about the details behind the aspects, the more realistic and valid the aspects are in the story. (For me)

What are your thoughts on this? Are there limits to this for you…no matter how comfortable the characters might be?

Author Bio:
A published author of speculative and science fiction, I live in Napa Valley and am married to a wonderful husband. We have 4 children ranging from 3 to 15 and two canine babies. One very evil cat -- of which the dogs fear -- decided to accept our offer of residency and has tolerated us for about 7 years now.

More Information:
Adventures of a Sci-Fi Writer
Email Contact


  1. Thank you so much, Steph, for having me by.

  2. It's a very fine line. As an avid SF reader, I love the technology. If somebody has an FTL drive, there are ways of working in something of the technology behind it. Is it a wormhole diver? Some futuristic warp engine? Perhaps a sentient ship which can teleport.

    I'd agree about a limit to how deep the explanation needs to be. I like your analogy of saying what the alien looks like without a scientific discourse on its DNA structure.

    Unless, of course, the story posits that the alien is a mutated human and the only way that fact is discovered is by analyzing a DNA sample. Then, I damned well want to know how the mutation came about.

    Tis a fine line to walk

  3. Very fine. Working the SF tech smoothly into the characters actions and dialogue is a talent.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  4. Well, said, AR - I'm not a fan of the techie dump, it's invasive and often unnecessary, but I do like the science explained if it's part of the story. If the characters are trying to resolve a tech or experimental problem, yes, yes, I want to know.

    Otherwise, just give me the world whole and let me see the characters react to it naturally.

  5. This problem doesn't onlt crop up in SF writing.
    I'm currently writing a political thriller/satire, and I'm really struggling to keep a VERY important chapter short and to the point, because it's VITAL to the plot that I make a strong, logical argument for why Liverpool can declare itself a "City State" and SECEDE from the United Kingdom, becoming an autonomous, self-governing Region...

  6. Infodumps are rarely ever a good thing in a book. If you can weave the facts into the narrative, people will know what you need them to know for the story without feeling like they've just attended a lecture. It's a difficult feat, but many authors find ways to work it into the story.

    Sometimes, the author needs to know how the engine works but the readers don't. Knowing when to cut out your favorite techie explanation is a good thing for the story, the book, and the reader.

  7. Yes, great discussion topic. As a SFR writer, I often find myself walking that line. The science is what makes my subgenre unique and sets it apart from fantasy where things simply happen by magic, so there are times when more technological detail is warranted--depending on how and why it's revealed.

    Stepping back into the shoes of a reader, the purpose of the technology in the story is key to how much I need to know.

    Take a television as an example. I don't need to be fed details on how a futuristic television works just because a character turns it on to watch the news or a favorite program. On the other hand, if some entity is using the television to influence the character via subliminal suggestion or manipulation of brain waves, I want to know a little more (though certainly not pages of mechanics) on how that's accomplished and what the effect will be on the character.

    I think this works best when the characters discover the necessary details through the natural progression of the story. Stalling the plot for a lengthy techno-dump simply kills the story's momentum.

  8. @Sandra - You summed it up way better than I did with that last sentence. Perfect way to put it!

    @Paul - LOL! I never thought of're right. Every genre has a risk of the detail dump. I can see how the political thiller/satire could have that risk. I wish you luck with keeping it logical yet interesting. We writers do know how to challenge ourselves, don't we?

    @Jaleta - Yes, yes! I loved that way you said it. Thank you!

    Thank you all for reading my ramble -er - post.


  9. Haha! Laurie, we posted at the same time practically. Thanks for stopping by. I like your example. I'm glad I'm not the only SFer that feels this way.

  10. I skip over techie info dumps. I use technology without ever explaining to myself how my computer works--or my light bulb for that matter! i'm only interested in the function or task the etch resource makes happen.

    In my writing my characters use technology casually, it is an ingrained part of their lives. My stories are more focused on the human relationship and the obstacles/journey to a HEA.

  11. LOL A.R. Tag, you're it!

    Well said, Melisse. The technology only becomes important if it's intergral to the plot and affects the characters and even then, I think less is better.

    My favorite saying: SFR focuses on the characters, never the contraptions.

  12. I love you Brigaders! Could you imagine trying to say this even ten years ago in the SF world? It would've been shunned out of the discussion. Thank goodness Romance took SF under its wings a bit.

  13. I'm not a fan of the info dumps. Jack Campbell did an interesting thing in his LOST FLEET books. Black Jack has been awakened from hyper sleep after 100 years, and he's trying to learn the tech, so we see it through his eyes. Very effective, IMHO. I actually liked those info dumps. LOL! But I totally agree that people don't explain or think about the stuff around them, except when it doesn't work (like when my hot water heater died recently! lol). Anyway, ditto you lot. (grin)

  14. Sorry I'm late getting here. SFRers are hitting the mark right for what we want to accomplish in our stories.

    It seems some info is important if it moves the story, but no dumping. I agree. I don't like or need to know exactly how something works in boring detail, but I do want to know how it affects the characters, their reaction, how they deal with their situation, etc.

    Thanks for bringing this to light, AR.

  15. @ Pauline - LOL, yeah that's about it for me too. When it's breaking or otherwise not doingwhat it's suppose to, then it has to be explained to get it working or tell why it's not working.

    @ Kaye - No prob, I like the way you told it. I always like to go back and check to make sure I'm telling the tech for a reason that'll matter.

    Thank you both for stopping by.

  16. Ugh--Techno speak--that's one of my gripes about SF too.

    No, don't tell me how the ray gun works, just use the damn thing and get on with the story.