Monday, June 3, 2019

Context Changes: The most powerful ally of science fiction and fantasy – ever. By Immortal Angel

By Immortal Angel

Would you take the red pill, or the blue pill?

If you would take the red pill, you would definitely experience a context change.

A context change is a revelation which literally tips the world on its axis, and neither the character nor (hopefully) the reader will ever see their reality in the same way again. Taking the red pill thrusts Neo into the ‘real’ world, which is completely different than his former illusory world in the Matrix.

Classic science fiction and fantasy stories take advantage of these context changes in ways that are unique because they typically open up a new world that is completely different than the mundane, ordinary world we inhabit on a daily basis. Some great context changes:

When Marty gets out of the De Lorean and finds out he’s gone back in time. [Back to the Future]
When Dorothy exits her house and realizes the world is in color. [Wizard of Oz]
When Lucy goes through the back of the wardrobe to Narnia. [The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe]

This type of context change alters the external world, and that is usually to dazzle the reader. Throwing readers into the world of color, magic, or outer space gives them the enchantment they are looking for when they pick up a science fiction or fantasy book.

There is another type of context change, where you change only the character’s world, which leads to internal character growth. Examples of this:

“Luke, I am your father.” [If you don’t know this it will just be my secret.]
“You’re a wizard, Harry.” [Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone]
In The Neverending Story, when Bastian realizes that the Childlike Empress is actually talking directly to him.

When I first started writing, I intuitively threw in context changes, but probably not to the extent that I should have. The best science fiction and fantasy stories have a mixture of several external and internal context changes, so the author can dazzle the reader with their amazing world, and the characters can grow through different revelations.

In The Matrix, there are several context changes:

1.       When Neo takes the red pill.
2.       When Neo learns that he can control aspects of the Matrix, so he becomes more powerful.
3.       When Neo learns about viruses that hunt them, so the Matrix becomes more dangerous.
4.       When Neo is told he is The One.
5.       When the Oracle tells him that he isn’t The One.
6.       When he realizes he is The One at the end.

His context is continually changing and shifting in a way that is exciting and keeps viewers on the edge of their seats. It’s even better because it’s his decision and belief in himself at the end that paves the way for his final context change of becoming The One.

If you look at the most powerful science fiction and fantasy stories today, they take advantage of multiple context changes. If you have a series, there should be context changes from book to book. In my series of eight books about elves and cyborgs, there are context changes for each of the main characters within books. But in the overall series arc, there are context changes for elves which happen in books 1, 4, 6, 7, and 8. There are also context changes for cyborgs which happen in books 1, 2, 5, 7, and 8. Book 3 changes the timeline, and Books 4 and 8 have the largest context changes for the understanding of the villains.

So how do we think of context changes for our stories? This is where brainstorming comes in, and you can really let your creativity run wild. I usually sit down with my husband and a cup of coffee and we ask each other: What is the craziest thing you can think of to happen in this story?

For external context changes, you go through your world and ask what could change that would alter reality. Perhaps the characters enter another dimension or place. Perhaps they find some hidden knowledge. Perhaps a new technology is revealed. Perhaps the enemies morph into something different altogether. I still love it when a vampire turns into a bat. Seriously, that trick never gets old.

For internal context changes, you can go through your characters systematically and start asking how you can shake them up. How can we change the hero’s world? How can we change the villain’s world? How can we change two characters’ relationships  to each other? How can we add to the back story in a way that would change their reality?

Once you have your context changes, take some time to make sure that they haven’t been done before. You know how I check? My chiropractor. He loves science fiction and fantasy, and he’s read, watched, or played just about everything out there. If I tell him my idea and he says, “That’s just like. . .” followed by a movie or book and a detailed explanation, I know I have to go back to the drawing board.

Whatever you do, you can be sure that context changes are worth the time and effort it takes to plan them. They serve the same function as plot twists in action and mystery stories, and will add the extra sparkle to your science fiction or fantasy story that will keep readers coming back for more!

Do you have some great examples of context changes? Feel free to leave them in the comments below!

All the best and happy writing!

Immortal Angel

About the Author
Immortal Angel’s first true love was Han Solo – of course, that was before she realized she wasn’t really a princess. But from that heartbreaking realization came a lifetime love of reading and watching science fiction, fantasy and romance. Once she began to write, those translated into epic adventures that cross time and space, with a little romance thrown in for good measure!

Immortal Angel loves to hear from her readers, and of course, she wants to hear from you! Feel free to contact her by any of the methods below:


Tuesday, May 21, 2019

What’s Different about a Romance Set in the Far Future? By @CarmenWBuxton

By Carmen Webster Buxton

One of the main reasons I enjoy writing love stories set in the far future is that I can create my own cultures.  If I wrote contemporary or historical romance, I would have to stick to what exists now or what has existed in the past; but by setting my story a thousand or so years into the future, I can make my own rules for what constitutes reasonable behavior.

In my made-up cultures, gender roles can be whatever I want them to be. I can make up societies in which men and women are totally equal and have been for centuries, and cultures where women are subservient to men. In my book Tribes I created a world where there is no marriage because everyone’s loyalty is to his or her tribe, which is always all female or all male; in that world, the people on the very bottom or the legal and social ladder are men with no tribe.  In Saronna’s Gift, the story takes place on a world colonized by religious fundamentalists and consequently, women are chattels of their fathers or husbands. 

And because I’m writing so far into the future, where technology has conquered distance, I can populate many worlds, and then throw characters from different worlds and different cultures into one story. That’s where the fun really starts, because characters with radically different frames of reference can have a hard time understanding each others’ thought processes and motivations. A woman who has been taught that God created men as women’s keepers might have a difficult time valuing her own abilities, especially her ability to think for herself. A man who knows men and women to be equal in rights and talents might not realize how deep a contrary conviction was ingrained in a woman’s thinking.

I can even take their differences one step further and create aliens with totally different histories and cultures. In Alien Bonds, Wakanreans are a species very similar to humans in all their biological systems except for a fundamental difference in how they pair off. Throwing humans into the mix has some interesting results, both for the world and for the characters.

And yet the best part about any far-future love story is, it’s still a love story. Some things never change, and I think the fundamental human emotion we call romantic love will always exist so long as humans exist. My characters fall in love in spite of coming from very different backgrounds, in spite of each of them having a different frame of reference, even in spite of the two of them not being the same species.

To be interesting, a story needs conflict. A love story needs problems to exist between the lovers, and for love to happen in spite of all obstacles. In a far future story, those problems can be wildly unfamiliar, but love can still conquer them. This is what makes reading science fiction romance satisfying for me.


A voracious reader since childhood, Carmen Webster Buxton spent her youth reading every book published by Ursula LeGuin, Robert Heinlein, and Georgette Heyer. As a result, her own books mix far-future worlds, alien cultures, and courting customs.

Sometimes a specific event from real life will trigger a story idea for her, but she always works it into a science fiction or fantasy setting. When her parents divorced after 28 years of marriage, this led her to ponder the nature of marriage and create a species that mated for life, in her novel Alien Bonds. But most of her books began merely as an image in her head of someone in a specific situation—a thief selling stolen goods to a fence, a man hunting game in a forest, or a young woman walking behind her father while he looked for someone to buy her. The urge to find out who those people were and what happened to them would almost always result in a book.

Carmen was born in Hawaii but had a peripatetic childhood, as her father was in the US Navy. Having raised two wonderful children, she now lives in Maryland with her husband and a beagle named Cosmo.   


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