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  • Writer's pictureChris Russell

Larger Themes in Science Fiction And Index Cards

S4 E3 Outro

Hello my survivor friends.

Here we are - We have arrived at Season four, Episode 3.

For you folks struggling with the unique temporal distortion of podcasting – it is end of summer 2023.

How are you doing?

Up here in New England we would typically be crawling like dry, sunbaked lizards, all burnt up and crispy from the lack of moisture into the end of the summer.

But not this year. It’s been the rainiest summer in history for us.

It’s been steadily pouring rain all summer long. Good for weeds, the mushrooms, and mosquitos.

My wife said it’s like living in Seattle.

As much as we like to complain about the exigencies of the weather - It really doesn’t affect me or my life that much.

I still get out with the dog. We don’t melt.

Ollie hates the rain. Like all border collies, Ollie is neurotic about the strangest things and a distaste for being wet is on the top of his list of foibles.

As I noted last time, you can get these outro’s emailed to you auto-magically if you go to and subscribe – I’ll add you to the list – somewhere near the public publish date of the episode you’ll get them in your inbox. I have to be careful with the timing because I don’t want to confuse or spoil your listening experience.

The why you care is you get the links and pictures of what I’m talking about here in case you want to follow up on something. I know when I’m listening to podcasts, I’m typically out on a run or driving – so when I hear something interesting it’s hard to remember when I want to hunt it down.

Inside Baseball

Today, my long suffering apocalyptic friends, we will discourse on the importance of broader themes in science fiction.

As we progress through season four you will start to see broader storylines and themes emerge.

Let me tell you why.

The first three seasons were character driven, and at times action driven. I want to keep that in season four but also up the stakes by including larger themes.

“Why would you do this Chris?” you ask…

Well, as you know by now, I am a big fan of the golden age of science fiction. Whether I like it or not I’m a product of my environment. That environment that my brain has been pickled in, part of it at least, are the classic science fiction stories.

After the Apocalypse is the exultation of all those great and interesting science fiction books that I have consumed in my life.

These books had a big impact on me, the way I think, and my storytelling.

The good stories, the really great stories, are ones that moved beyond character and action and into the bigger questions about the meaning of life, the purpose of humanity and other big what-ifs.

Science fiction is the perfect vehicle for asking big questions. You can do that in science fiction and not get in trouble!

That’s the power of science fiction, it’s a safe and fun arena.

“Give us an example.” you say.

OK, how about Asimov’s Foundation series? The question he is exploring is “Can the future be predicted and directed by scientific intervention? What would a scientifically designed future look like? What would the impact of that scientific intervention have on society? What could go wrong?”

Those are big questions. And in the context of when he was writing that story, the 50’s and 60’s, society had great faith in science. We had split the atom. We had found wonderful drugs and built amazing machines. It seemed like science was the answer to everything. Azimov extended that premise to a galactic empire.

Or pick any Heinlein book - they are all treatments of ‘what ifs’ around human society. I’ll call out specifically Methuselah’s Children or Time enough for Love where the Lazarus Long character answers the question “What would life be like if we could live forever? How would that change the way we look at things? For the good or the worse?”

Heinlein, for better or worse undressed sex, love, and religion in his stories. His future was one of libertarian males who could use science and their keen wits to solve any problem.

Great science fiction, and even great fiction itself goes deep into the fundamental questions of humanity. I don’t think the intent is ever to have an answer. I think the intent is to plant the seeds of the question and its possible outcomes in the minds of the readers.

In that way they had an outsized impact on forming the thinking and questioning and hope and cynicism of generations of readers.

I’m going to try to layer in some bigger themes in Season four.

Like I said before, you guys are smart, or at least I’m going to assume you’re smart. I can broach these larger themes and you’ll get it.

Do I think my paltry scribbles could be put on the same shelf with the masters of the Science Fiction? No. But I do know that they would want me to try.

They’d want us all to try.

My friend Dave, the race director for the Boston Marathon always says, “My game, My rules!”

As rational humans and independent podcast people we get to do what we want.

That’s the lesson for you creatives. Don’t just follow the furrow in front of you like a dumb mule pulling a cart. Don’t settle for the proven formulas like a Hollywood remake. Try some things that have some risk to them. Try some things that could, GASP… fail!

Because that’s where the good stuff is.

This does add complexity to the creative process. It’s easy to describe a guy being attacked by wild animals, but it’s harder to make people feel the urgency of choices that impact the whole universe. Even though the stakes are much higher, they feel less urgent emotionally because they are less personal.

So the challenge, the art, is to make those bigger themes personal.

Enough of that!

What is Chris reading?

I am reading, or really more like studying, a nonfiction e-book called “Writing Unblocked”.

Putting together episodes 2 and 3 I was having trouble putting pen to paper. I had plenty of ideas but I was having trouble pushing them through the filter of my mind out onto the paper.

In the biz they call this ‘writer’s block’.

It’s quite a debilitating feeling when you have all the ideas but can’t get them to take form in the way you want.

As is usually the case, inspiration came to me out on a run with Ollie.

I heard a great interview on the “Successful Screenwriter podcast” with Geoff Calhoun. (Good podcast btw. Geoff keeps the interviews short and tight. He interviewed me last year, so you know it’s top-notch.) 😊

The interview was with Laura Cayouette. She is an American actress and author. She was Leonardo DiCaprio’s southern Bell wife in Django Unchained. She hangs out with Quentin Tarantino.

She was pitching this e-book in the interview.

Duly inspired, I procured it when I got home from my run.

And – tying back to why you want to sign up for the emails - It wasn’t easy to find it. There are, and this should surprise no one, a bazillion books on writer’s block.

This book I was looking for is a self-published instructional book – basically a PDF you download from her website.

To be honest I felt a bit hornswoggled to be exchanging my hard earned capital for an what was essentially an actor’s white paper on writing.

(“Hornswoggled” is an American jocular word that means ‘to be taken advantage of’. Presumably it is a fun portmanteau of Horns and Waggle that was invented when a steer shakes his head to avoid a lasso. And it’s just plain fun to say. Hornswoggled.)

The book is a ‘how to’ book, (obviously). It’s her methodology for writing, not just novels but screen plays and anything else.

Like I said, I felt a bit short changed. I suppose I was looking for something a bit more academic and beefier.

But, here’s the thing with ‘How to’ methodologies.

They all work.

Every single one will work if you follow the steps and do the work.

Which most people don’t.

Why do you care?

Because you can spend your whole life looking for the perfect methodology or magic silver bullet process and you will never find it. But if you choose one, any one, and commit to it and are consistent, at the very least you will learn something and have some form of success.

(I’m really preachy today, aren’t I?)

Her methodology is to write all your ideas, one at a time onto index cards. Then color code the cards, build them into a timeline and guess what? You have the first draft of a book.

I spent a couple mornings writing all the stuff in my head - themes and scenes and dialogue ideas onto index cards and guess what? It really helped me get my head around turning them into episodes.

Like this episode for instance. This episode is a direct conversion of a stack of index cards. I already had the scene and the dialogue in my head, but this helped me get it out.

What is the lesson here?

In my experience if you’re hitting a wall it always helps to try something new, or revert to something old, break your routine.

As long as it has a process to it. The process creates the output. If you have a process, you can stop being distracted by the noise, stop worrying about results and just work the process.

In other words just do it.

That’s it for this week. I had not intended to go so long, but once you start writing, strange things happen.

If you would like to support After the Apocalypse there are many ways. You can rate and review, you can subscribe, you can give us money – I will include all those links in the post.

Keep your feet dry, don’t get hornswoggled and keep surviving.

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