About Mario

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Born and raised in Los Angeles, Mario Piumetti is a freelance writer of science fiction, horror, screenplays, and nonfiction. He has a bachelor's degree in English from California Lutheran University and an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University. An avid music lover, his work is heavily influenced by rock, punk, and metal. You can contact him at mario.piumetti.writer@gmail.com.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Details and How to Deal with Them

Details can be a bitch.

I've been working on background notes for the last week or so for this space exploration story of mine.  I'm nearly done with them.  Right now, I'm working on fleshing out the spacecraft that takes my explorers to their destination.  I won't lie: it's a goddamn pain, but a necessary one; the spacecraft is just too important of a setting to overlook.  Nevertheless, I feel compelled to return to some points of warning.

Back in November, I wrote a post called "Itty Bitty Details".  It was me trying to sort out which details ought to get a writer's attention and which could afford a bit of neglect.  Now, there really is no set in stone rule on how to go about this other than you need to prioritize details based on the work you're doing.  If you're writing detective fiction, it would help you to look into information on how police work is done.  If you're writing a comedy set in a music store, the operations of that store may not be too important.  Look at the film Office Space as an example; the main character works as a computer programmer, but there aren't too many details about what his job entails; all we need to know is that it sucks.

Back to my original issue: how much detail is too much?  I think that a writer should have enough detail to give himself a foggy view of what he's writing.  For example, tonight, I drew up a diagram of the cockpit for my spacecraft.  I did not do painstaking schematics of consoles and gauges.  I did not draw a circuit diagram for the computers.  None of that.  All I needed to know was the size of the space and where everyone was going to be seated.  There is a private section for the ship's commander (Star Trek fans would call this the captain's ready room, I think), but no details on what the furniture is like in there.

See?  A rough and broad image.  Later on in the week I'll have to figure out where the life support system goes, but I won't ask myself all the intricate details of it.  All I need to know is where the water and air are stored.

There are a few reasons for all of this.

First, as I said, it's a matter of priority.  When you get down to it, the spacecraft is a ferryboat.  Once my characters have landed on this new planet, they'll be reliant on whatever shelter and gear they bring with them, so that I have detailed because it's more relevant to their survival, and since survival is one of the main things I want to talk about, that shelter becomes an even more important setting.

The second reason is spontaneity.  As I'm writing, I might come up with an idea for a cool little gizmo to put on the ship, maybe some big, cool MRI machine for the doctors to use, or a robotic surgeon.  If I had detailed the ship's hospital right at the beginning, I would have to redesign it to accommodate this change.  It's enough for me to say, "This is how big the hospital is.  This is how much space and area you have to work with.  Find some place to put this gadget."

Third, if you really delve into your work to the nth degree and say to people where the nuts and bolts literally are, you're going to waste your time.  John Howe, one of the concept artists for the Lord of the Rings films comments how a coworker who had a zoology background bugged him on his design for the winged creatures worn by the Ringwraiths.  Howe's reply was, "This isn't National Geographic.  This is Lord of the Rings.  Leave me alone."  Similarly, I'm not designing a ship for NASA.  If any astronautic engineers want to bug me about my spaceship, I'll just turn the tables on them and say that they're the ones with the advanced technical degrees; I'm just a writer.

There are a couple of other reasons I have in mind, but they're more project-specific - stuff relating to theme - and I don't want to give anything away just yet.

Monday, May 14, 2012


Story, as it turns out, has become a necessary thing to think about when you're writing.  I'd hate to be a party pooper, but it seems that I strayed from that fact a little bit this week as I was trying to get things ready for my colonization story.  I was so focused on all these little details that I forgot to ask myself the fundamental question: what is the story that I'm trying to tell?

Don't get me wrong.  Research is important, but don't let it blind you to what's really important.  As George R.R. Martin said: "A writer cannot do too much research, though sometimes it is a mistake to try and cram too much of what you learned into your novel.  Research gives you a foundation to build on, but in the end it's only the story that matters."

For me, I was going off of a conceit (settlers arriving on a new world), but I didn't have a story.  Does a landing shuttle crash?  Are the colonists trying to keep away a swarm of alien animals who see them as fresh meat?  Do the colonists divide into rival factions?  This week, my answer to all of these was a shrug and, "I don't know."

Let me put this another way...

Look at 2001: A Space Odyssey, a beautiful film counted among the greatest science fiction films ever made.  It was put together in a gorgeous fashion that made you feel like you were looking at a possible alternate reality (at least from our post-2001 point of view; I don't remember the Soviet Union being around in that year, and I certainly don't remember there being any giant space stations or lunar bases).  but what was the story about?  Bowman turned into the Star Child at the end and then...what?

Now look at 2010: The Year We Make Contact.  Cold War tensions rise.  Soviet and American astronauts distrust each other.  Curnow and Brajlovsky strike a friendship.  Chandra embarks on a paternal quest to save his creation, the HAL-9000.  Kirbuk is trying to decide whether Floyd is friend or foe, and Floyd is trying to redeem himself for the failed voyage of Discovery.  Now that's a good set of stories, and all of them under the umbrella of the main conceit, which is aliens trying to communicate with humanity.

Now, if it were up to me, I would have tried to combine the beauty of 2001 with the narrative of 2010.  Roger Ebert compared 2001 to poetry, and it certainly is.  I guess the problem that I have is that I prefer narrative poetry.

Friday, May 11, 2012


A little over a week ago, I stopped work on my alien invasion novel.  My friends were surprised.  Hell, I was surprised.  I'd spent two and a half years taking a stab at it and then the last couple of months trying to breath new life into it and trying to make it all work out.  Only it didn't.  It was a shock and a disappointment, and I was pretty pissed off about it for a while.  However, it's ultimately all for the better and I've moved on to a new story, this one about colonists arriving on a new world.

But the question persists: why did the alien invasion novel fail?

I got into writing fifteen years ago.  As a kid, I started writing stuff that ripped off whomever I was reading, most of it military science fiction, and thus explaining why I kept working on an alien invasion story.  As time goes on, you don't just sharpen your style and voice, but your themes as well.  I started to notice that I was interested less in a flat-out war story and more in things related to survival and culture clashes.  I still like myself a good war story, but the latter themes seemed to have more depth to them, more substance.

Did my invasion novel touch on survival?  Not really.  The urgency didn't seem to be there too strongly - the need to live the next day, the next hour, the next minute.  Did my invasion novel touch on culture clashes?  Not really.  The plan was to have at least some of my characters meeting with the aliens and try to talk out their differences, but that was more towards the end of the story.  The aliens didn't appear until about a hundred pages into the book, and even then it was one creature who died quickly.

There's no shame in focusing on a handful of themes.  On the contrary, doing so helps a writer to prioritize his time.  If you think (but have no desire) you should write about sparkly and overly-emotional vampires because they're popular at the moment, then for God's sake, please don't.  Don't waste your time on a subject that doesn't hold your interest.  If you're bored when you write, you'll be bored on the page, and your readers will pick up on that.  Write what you're interested in, weave your own energy and enthusiasm into the text, and your readers will respond well to it.

Maybe one day, if I connect the right dots, I might try tackling the invasion novel again.