Daily Archives: November 27, 2011

Guest post: Writing science-fiction by Dal Burns

I’m delighted to bring you this guest blog post, today on the topic of writing science fiction by Dal Burns.

Alien Race is my first sci-fi piece to be published. It has a rather odd story attached to it. A friend and I were having a drink together and talking about writing in general. She decided on a bet; $100 that I couldn’t write a 20,000-word story in two weeks if she were to give me the final sentence. I thought about it. 20,000 words for $100? Seemed about right for a writer, so I agreed. She gave me the last sentence; “We were going home.”

The subject matter was mine to decide upon. I went home and started to think about the words, ‘We were going home’. I spent two days staring at a blank screen on my computer. Although the word ‘home’ is powerful in any story, how was I to build a new story on that one word?

When writing, I often use incidents from my own life. I have traveled a lot and spent many years on the road, gathering stories and adventures. This story could be dragged out of one of those adventures but that didn’t seem right. I needed to get away from my life entirely and look for something beyond my experience. That meant leaving Earth. As simply as that, I had decided to write a sci-fi story.

Rather than taking the story into space and leaving it there, I thought it would be interesting to link the Earth with the story in some fashion. This would give the reader a basis for getting involved. Glancing over at my bookshelf, I saw “Lucy, The Beginnings of Mankind.” There was my hook. I had to start in the distant past and move the story into the future and off the planet. So the story had to feature a person who was rooted in the past, while living in the distant future. Thus was created Ed Davidson. This was to be a man who looked for artifacts on Earth in a future time and who found something linking the past and the future. Simple; an alien artifact turns up at a dig site, some several million years old.

Now I had a plot developing. An artifact means aliens were on earth millions of years ago. This prompts the reader to wonder why and we have them interested. Nothing too technical or fancy needed. A good, simple story of a man curious to find out more about our past, by looking outward into space.

Now I needed the plot of the story. Davidson is an off-world archaeologist seeking the unattainable. Alien artifacts. He needs a rival. Someone who will get into Ed’s way, frequently.  That turns out to be Jag Danis (a deliberately ‘jagged’ sort of name), a mine boss who doesn’t want any alien artifacts getting in the way of his mining operations on distant worlds. Between them, they scour new worlds looking for wealth and evidence of alien life. Here we have the age-old conflict between two men who are competing with each other. One is seeking wealth and power, the other seeking knowledge. They will, of course, find themselves on a collision course as their desires clash. To introduce a bit more tension, Danis never plays fair. An old plot contrivance that works off-world as well as on.

Now that the main plot was organized, the sub-text of the story needed to be found. Aliens are endlessly fascinating to sci-fi reader, so they had to be included. As we are dealing with aliens who visited Earth millions of years previously and are more advanced, I thought it simple to give them the ability to move through time. In order to stay away from current thinking about the impossibility of time travel, I had them move their consciousness through time. Not something a physicist can easily dismiss. This may also give the reader pause for thought. Could humans have a conscious soul or a consciousness that transcends the boundaries of physical laws?

So now I had all the elements necessary. Looking at the story, it really boils down to several simple themes that could be in any story. Davidson is on the classic hero’s journey. Danis is the villain, trying to stop him. On one level they are fighting each other. On another level they represent the eternal struggle of humankind. Wealth versus knowledge. Greed versus virtue.  Finally, the aliens represent the force beyond both of them, attempting to guide the course of events, without becoming the ‘deus ex machina’ we need to avoid at all costs.

As with all good stories, I wanted a solid and satisfying resolution. Allowing Davidson to return to Earth in an attempt to complete his hero’s journey, despite Danis’ best efforts to thwart him, added to the conflict and tension of the story. As with many of my writings, what I want may not be what I get. I always allow the story to unfold in its own way and refuse to be my own ‘deus ex machina’. What actually happened in Alien Race was a bit of a surprise to me but seems to be satisfactory to the readers of my story.

If one wishes to be an Asimov, it will take rather a lot more work to complete a book or a novella than I am capable of delivering. Nonetheless, I find that the universal themes used in most books are also present in science-fiction, albeit with a healthy dose of science or pseudo-science mixed in to make the theme fit into the category of science-fiction. The combination is a compelling one. It allows the reader to become involved in the age-old stories of our cultures while imagining a universe filled with amazing and generally improbable technologies. To me, this is a great mix for a reader who wishes to escape mundane reality, while still understanding the culture, background and context of the story.

Thank you Dal!

Dal is a 4th-generation entertainer first put on stage at age eight, by his father. He has been involved in TV, movies, radio, recording studios, rock band, theatre etc. He has written for radio ads, theatre programs, screenplays and radio plays (he says they were fun!) theatre plays (2 of which were produced and quite successful). Dal wrote his first story at seventeen, after a mentor suggested he enter a writing competition. He said the suggestion was made because he was rather well known in his village (In the wilds of Northumberland) as the local storyteller. After that he didn’t write again until in his thirties, when working with a theatre company.

Dal has written four books and is working on a fifth, which is an illustrated children’s book, with co-author Kari Wishingrad and illustrators Sona & Jacob. That book will be released this year with the title “The Neighbor’s Cat”. He is also working on three new books; another children’s illustrated book, a YA story about an alternate universe and a YA story about two horses. Although Dal has never visited an alternate universe, he thinks he owns Bella, a Peruvian Paso mare. Bella knows better. Dal’s websites include and He can also be found on Twitter ( and Facebook (as Dal Burns).

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).

The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with Ann Pietrangelo – the two hundred and first of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too) and / or email me. You can also read / download my eBooks at Smashwords.


Posted by on November 27, 2011 in ebooks, tips, writing


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Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast ‘red pen session’ no.8

** Please note that I no longer run red pen episodes but do offer critique (first 1,000 words free) via** 

This week’s podcast was released today, Sunday 27th November, the eighth of my episodes dedicated to reading a short story or self-contained novel extract (with synopsis) and then talking about it afterwards.

I run a fortnightly critique group as well as critiquing other authors’ writing which I really enjoy so I thought I’d create podcast episodes doing this. Please remember that it’s only one person’s (my) opinion and you, and the author concerned, are welcome to disagree with my interpretation – I will never be mean for the sake of it, but hope that I’m firm but fair. I also type the critique as I’m reading the story for the first time so by listening to the episode you will have had the advantage of hearing the story in full before hearing my feedback.

Regardless of what genre you write I hope that this helps you think about the way your stories are constructed and that you have enjoyed hearing another author’s work, the copyright of which remains with them.

This episode’s piece was emailed to me by crime author Lae Monie who featured as my second Author Spotlight on 17th August and who’s ‘More Hungry Boys’ extract was red pen session number three.

Lae is a 30-something author and citizen of the world (she’s travelled a lot – I’ve moved four times and 60 miles in my entire life). Lae says “I have been a writer for … well, it feels like forever and I can’t think of anything else I would like to do. My stories reflect the terse, lurid, violent tales about crime and desperation from the point of view of the criminal. They seek to discover the heart of criminality to create compelling reading for those who enjoy crime and are interested in the humanity of even the most unlikely characters.”

To describe the story a little, ‘The Vertigo Shot’ is the story of a pair of siblings going on a rampage in their own home and killing all members of their immediate family. One of them will kill herself and her child and the other will blame the massacre on his mentally deranged sister. Lae explained “The appeal to this story was just that, the brother’s insistence of his innocence and the use of his sister’s mental problem as his scapegoat. It was a fun project to write and taught me a lot about portraying mental behaviours in the best possible and objective way.”

The extract read out was taken from the beginning of Chapter 8, dated 1990 and is in the first-person viewpoint of the brother Darian. I removed some swearing from the original content but kept some mild instances as I felt it fitting to the dialogue. I then read out my comments about the piece and concluded…

There’s a great mixture of description and dialogue and whilst starting the reader thinking that the children were horrible by their actions we soon learn where their main streaks come from but then when the grandfather turns out to be worse our sympathies lie with the children, or at least in my case, one of them. Lae’s very good at choosing unexpected words and ‘The old ferry clenches into motion…’ is a classic example of this.

Written in first person present tense it’s very immediate and very smooth as it was only when I was concentrating on the viewpoint and tense about two thirds of the way through did I remember what they were – the sign of a great story; where we’re being swept along with the action. I even did a search for words ending in ‘ed’ to make sure there were no tense slips and there were none.

It’s important in any piece of writing to include the five senses and we’ve had most of them. Sight and sound we have from description and dialogue. Taste is rarely used and unless they’re actually eating anything (which they’re not in this piece) it’s not going to be appropriate. Smell is easy to add and we could have it with the old ferry or the grass at the beginning or in Stratford. We could also have touch in a few places including these places so plenty of scope for Lae to make the piece even more atmospheric!

Thank you for listening to this ‘red pen’ session. They will now be monthly instead of fortnightly and as yet I don’t have one in for December so if you would like a short story or novel extract, ideally up to 1,000 words, considered you can email me at

You can find more about Lae and her work via her blog, Facebook and Twitter. Thank you again for subscribing, downloading or clicking on this episode and I look forward to bringing you the next episode next Monday, two more pieces of flash fiction.

The podcast is available via iTunesGoogle’s FeedburnerPodbean (when it catches up), Podcasters (which takes even longer) or Podcast Alley (which doesn’t list the episodes but will let you subscribe).


Posted by on November 27, 2011 in novels, podcast, short stories, writing


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