One of the things I like most about writing futuristic science fiction is worldbuilding—dreaming up new civilizations and speculating about the histories they were built on. I muse about their customs and venerable traditions, their types of government and level of technology, as well as the interesting people that might live there. I find it all fascinating, and have made freewriting a part of my process. Before I take to the keyboard to bang out the first draft, I spend quite a bit of time—days, weeks even—writing longhand to discover the history and nuances of the worlds and people that will bring the story to life. Having an image in front of me to draw inspiration from helps a great deal, something to stir my curiosity and get my mind churning, like an awesome futuristic cityscape.
Below are a few of my favorites, images that—whether you’re a writer or not—are almost guaranteed to get your gears turning. After all, having an active imagination is pretty much a prerequisite for being a fan of science fiction. We all dream, and dreaming is just another form of worldbuilding, which is why—as I often like to say—the most amazing places I've ever lived exist only inside my mind.
I’ve been doing quite a bit of worldbuilding for my new novel, Sparrow’s Gate. It’s set in a different universe than Terracova: Archon, so I’ve got a lot of assets to develop. I have the plot pretty fleshed out, but have been doing more research than writing over the past month, collecting images and putting together a soundtrack of music scores to help me define the mood and pace, as well as learning about zoonotic diseases (yes, that’s a plot hint :-) ).
Looking back at the images I posted on my Facebook Page in February, I can see how my research and intent influenced my eye. That’s not to say that all of the images I shared last month are representative of the style and feel of the new novel’s storyworld, in fact, that’s far from the case. But the elements—characters, ships, space stations, portals, etc—do have bearing. It’s like when you’re thinking about buying a particular product, like a car or cell phone. As soon as you narrow your choices down to one or two, you suddenly begin to notice more of them in the world. The need to develop similar elements in my new novel was definitely guiding my eye last month. I found and shared a lot of good images, many of which sparked great conversations and brought some new perspectives to a few old sci-fi theories and tropes.
Below are the top five images from February—follower favorites based on likes, comments, and shares.
Andrei Pintea’s Portal was the highest rated image, with 433 likes, comments, and shares. It’s no wonder. Portals go hand in hand with imagination, gateways to far off places. Through them, the future, past, and present have no bearing, and we’re free to imagine whatever we want. Placing it in a beautiful, majestic setting like the one above doesn’t hurt either.
I don’t know what it is about the Sith, but they sure do have a strong presence in artwork. The Jedi may be the heroes of the story, but, to me, the Sith are far more complex and intriguing. They exude emotion and depth and seem to be far better at striking a pose. The Apprentice, by Simon Goinard, received 386 likes, comments, and shares.
John Liberto’s Requiem Approach Vector has a dark, ominous feel to it that just seems ripe for a story. A derelict ship and a giant spherical space station hovering in the void? It’s the perfect backdrop for an epic tale. The image received 383 likes, comments, and shares.
Stephen Zavala’s Diving in the Clouds received 381 likes, comments, and shares. I’ve noticed images like these often do well. I think it’s because seeing a ship rocketing through the clouds, rising higher and higher, taps into our sense of adventure. We’re sci-fi fans. We dream of blasting off to explore the solar system and galaxy beyond. We see images like this and think, “Yes, please!”
Parallel Viking Spacecraft, by Levy Wang came in fifth overall, with 360 likes comments, and shares, but generated more comments than any other image. Most of the comments were related to the blue energy ring around the ship, speculating as to its purpose/function. A lot of good theories were put forth—inertia dampening field, warp field, an orbital stabilizer/anchor, protective shielding, and a few others. My favorite came from Angel Rivera, who speculated it could be a type of ram-scoop, used to collect the exotic particles believed to be caught in the warp field generated by an Alcubierre drive.
Concept artist Johnson Ting claims this week’s top image on my Facebook page. His image, Frontier Buccaneers, pulled 261 Likes, which, as of today, was actually tied with Dmitry Dubinsky’s Stronghold, but Ting’s image had more comments, so it takes the top spot.
I think it’s a brilliant image, providing lots of great detail, while also leaving quite a bit to the imagination. Where/what are they dropping into? Is it a ship or a station? Derelict or crewed? Are they expecting resistance—civilian or military? And those visors! Imagine the psychological effect they’d have.
A few people pointed out that glowing visors weren’t suited for combat situations—basically acting as a target, telling the enemy where to shoot. While that’s absolutely true today, I wonder if it would be much of a concern in the distant future. Advances in night vision and computer-assisted targeting might make it a moot issue. If the enemy can see at night just as clear as day, then the glow wouldn’t really give anything away. And if a computer is selecting targets and identifying the most vulnerable areas to fire on, then it’s probably already locked onto the head, or, may not be concerned with it at all (contrary to popular belief, center-mass is actually the best place to aim in combat—the chest area providing a much larger target than the head). Of course, if the enemy doesn’t have these capabilities, then their tech must be old. In that case, maybe they aren’t firing anything strong enough to break the tensile strength of the pirate’s visors.
That’s what I love most about science fiction—there are no certainties, regarding the future. The only thing we know for sure, is that new discoveries and technologies will be made. But how they effect and transform our lives and understanding of the universe, is anyone’s guess. When it comes to writing futuristic fiction, the possibilities are truly endless.
“My favorite thing you have shared to date.” ~ Andrew Reed
“Want that armor!” ~ Melissa A Hamilton
“From a person who was born on "International Talk Like a Pirate Day" and who has two Pirate Captains (One with the surname Morgan) in his family tree . . . Liam M. Approves!!!” ~ Liam M. Edwards
“If someone were to make these visors, they would be rollin’ in the doe. LOL.” ~ John Bumgarden
“When I am a high tech engineer, I am gonna make some of these and send one to u.” ~ Callum Hoof
This amazing concept art by Jean-François Liesenborghs was last week’s top image on my Facebook page, grabbing 239 Likes, and it’s easy to see why.
What I like about the image is the cropping. The structure is immense, but you’re left wondering just how big it is. The two ships provide a sense of scale, and let you know that even if it doesn’t extend too far out of view, it’s still enormous—decades beyond our current construction capability, maybe even centuries, depending on how large it actually is.
Another thing I like—and quite possibly the most—is the fact that it’s not solid. I’ve seen a lot of concepts of extremely large, dense buildings that could possibly hold tens or hundreds of thousands of people. But as much as I love looking at the art, I’m always left wondering how it would actually work, infrastructure wise. Ventilation for one thing. How do you get fresh air to the inner most parts of a structure that’s several kilometers, or more, wide? Perhaps that’s what prompted the civilization depicted in Jean-François Liesenborghs’ “Labyrinth” to build in an open, maze-like pattern around a central core. Either that, or it was built by Replicators, and they just happened to be into spirals that year.
“Oh shit, better get SG-1 on the case...” ~ John C. Scott
“It was left by the Forerunners.” ~ Philip Archer March
“Love it. Love it. Love it.” ~ Jyothi Kuruvilla
One of the things I love most about post-apocalyptic artwork is that it makes me think about the history behind the collapse. As a writer of speculative science fiction—most of which takes place in the far future—I find these periods of disruption incredibly useful when developing the backstory of a novel. They free me from modern conventions and expectations of how things will or should progress and allow me to rebuild the world in a way that best suits the tale I’m telling. I can slow down the pace of technological advancement, or use the collapse as a unifying event that spawns a new golden age of global cooperation. After wiping the slate clean, the possibilities for the future become endless, and I’m free to tell the story the way it wants to be told.
Below are a few thought-provoking images to help your Muse destroy the world and become the master your fictional future.
Click to enlarge image.
I’ve been told I write strong female characters, which is good, because so far the majority of my protagonists have been female. It’s nice to know I do them justice and create characters that both men and women enjoy following.
So it’s no surprise that last week, while browsing for inspiration, the image below caught my eye. The character is sensibly clad, and looks like a formidable fighter, someone you’d approach with caution, no matter who you were. Impressive, because the realistic depiction of female warriors in sci-fi/fantasy isn’t exactly the norm. I clicked through, curious about the artist, and discovered she had included a short brief with the image. It deepened my appreciation for the artwork, and I share her sentiment. It’s the main reason I try hard to craft female characters that are just as complex, strong, confident, and independent as any male protagonist could be.
I contacted the artist and asked if I could repost her comments along with the artwork, because they're a good complement to the image. She was kind of enough to allow it, and I've included them below,
"Hilda" by Ros Kovac
I've expressed my thoughts in regards to the female representation in fantasy settings, few times in the past.
In short: I understand why artists make depictions of women that focus on showing off her body, instead of armor protection; I get the appeal of making huge breasted girls in high heels, that can magically kick ass. I totally support the right of artists of making chainmail bikinis, especially when they don't have any say in the design, because they're hired and respond to an Art Director. However, the fact that I get it and don't demand for them to stop, in the name of what I consider appropriate, doesn't mean that I like the bikini armor, or the bimbo that only serves as eye candy to sell a rather mediocre product.
Instead of whining about "why no one makes female warriors that I, as a woman, find appealing!?", I took on the task of creating a rather simple design of a woman that could potentially kick ass, but still appealed to what I find physically/visually attractive as an artist—mostly because I like painting attractive people, and this is a personal work, so I just have to please myself for once!—and that's how Hilda was born.
"Hilda" was just a quick name that came to mind after finishing the work, since "Generic barbarian woman" was too bland for a title. I mostly focused on the aesthetics aspects, especially the armor, taking into consideration what I expressed above, my parameters were:
This is by no means an attempt at a statement, lecturing or trying to tell people this is the right thing to do with female characters. It was simply, a very fun exercise I made between client works, which had been occupying my entire time lately.
Thanks for reading,
You can check out more of Ros’ work at the portfolio links above. And if her comments resonate with you, share the link. Who knows, maybe we can inspire others to think a little differently about character development, regardless what form it takes.
Sometimes, all it takes is a single image to bring a story to life. It could be a scene or location, from the past or the present. Where the image falls in the story timeline isn't important. If it can help you better visualize the world(s) your characters occupy, then that’s all that matters, because the better we're able to visualize our settings and scenes, the more vivid and detailed our writing becomes.
If you’re writing science fiction/fantasy, at some point, you’re probably going to want to develop a world or location with a sense of character and personality that sets it apart from the familiarity of Earth, past and present. Whether you’re looking to add a touch of wonder to a new world, or imbue an ancient culture with a sense of honor and timeless tradition, the images below are bound to set your Muse on the path to conjuring something majestic.
Click to enlarge images.
I like to people watch (airports are one of my favorite places), so I guess it’s no surprise that I draw as much inspiration from character portraits as I do from looking at scenes and settings, perhaps even more when it comes to story development. Just as in real life, there’s a story behind each face. Eyes hint of pain, joy, confidence and love; scars raise questions; and clothes, accessories, and hairstyles can reveal so much about culture. It’s amazing, the number of questions a face can conjure in one’s mind. For writers, these questions beg to be answered, and in the answers we discover a story waiting to be told.
Below are a few interesting portraits I've collected from various artists, characters that, for whatever reason, I find curiously compelling. They may be the protagonist of a great adventure, or simply a minor character that brings a touch of color to a single scene. Whatever the case, most would make great additions to any sci-fi/fantasy world. You can mix and match, or develop around them as they are. Character portraits merely serve as foundations, starting points to jump start your imagination. If you ask the questions, and let your Muse provide the answers, you may discover a new character worth writing about.
Need help with the questions? Pick an image that interest you and try some of these.
Click for full-size image.