Exercise #1: Common knowledge
The world of science fiction is another character. When we read, in a contemporary piece of realist fiction, that a woman walks into the kitchen and puts the kettle on, we supply the rest of the details. We rely on common knowledge. My kettle is electric, my mother-in-law’s is one that sits on the gas and whistles (she’s trying to save on her bills now she’s retired), but aside from these distinctions, we all know what the writer means by putting on the kettle. But in a future world, or on another planet, or in another dimension, they probably don’t make drinks the way we do. Try boiling a kettle in the vacuum of a spaceship. How will you heat it? Try making a cup of tea on Mars. On the surface it’s 96% carbon dioxide and no oxygen, so starting a fire is going to be a problem. And they probably don’t drink tea anyway.
But before we get to Mars, or Titan, or Earth in the time of the Morlocks, let’s look at the setting and how important it is in all types of literature.
Take your notebook and visit somewhere you haven’t been before. Note down unusual and distinct details about this location. Alternatively, search for an unusual location on the internet and note down setting details that engage your interest. What stands out to you? Which details seemed familiar? Which details seemed strange, unusual and distinct? Are there sensory impressions that stand out? Is the place cold? Damp? Dark? Light? Quiet? Noisy? And how did you feel as you entered this place? How is this reflected in what you notice?