Getting the universe right and writing it all down

by T

Question: I'm working on a collection of stories set in an alternate future and need to find a good way of presenting the brief history of the universe that has led to the stories. I was thinking of writing a prologue which explains the beginnings of this reality's space travel and militia but every time I write something it looks and feels wrong. Is there a better way to approach establishing universal history without shoehorning it into the story proper?

Also, can you recommend a good method for hand writing first drafts? Inspiration hits me randomly so I don't necessarily write things down in the intended order. Are there any accessible, good quality and reasonably priced notebooks that I can shuffle the pages round in? or is there a more suitable trick that authors use to overcome this hurdle?

Many thanks,

Answer: One question at a time...

1. The thing about history is that every generation must learn it from scratch. So one approach you might take is to have a main character who initially knows little about the history of world. As the character gradually learns about the history, so does the reader. This lets you reveal information at a comfortable pace that doesn't slow the story, which an "info dump" tends to do.

Even if your character is knowledgeable, you can still find ways to reveal the details of the world only gradually and as needed, so that you build up the reader's understanding of the world
over time. Some things can be introduced but only explained later - and some may never need to be explained, if the explanation is not integral to the story.

For instance, if your hero attends a service at a temple, you usually don't need to explain the origins of the religion - unless that is a key plot point. It may help you, as the writer, to know the meaning and history behind the ritual, but the character may not give it much thought (just as not everyone who goes to a church cares about deep theological questions).

2. I personally like using scene cards to organize a plot. These are 3x5" index cards. You write a brief description of each event in your story on a card and then play with the order until you are satisfied. It's very easy to add, delete, or rearrange events.

For longer, detailed blocks of text or even whole chapters, you might try writing in Scrivener. This is a software program that lets you write your story as chunks of text - scenes, chapters, beats, etc. (your choice). You can add, delete, or rearrange these chunks to your heart's content until you are satisfied. Then you merge or "scriven" the chunks into one manuscript, which you can then edit for flow and consistency.

You can get a free trial version of Scrivener to see if you like it. Here's a link to my review (which also contains the link to the trial version)...

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