Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Believability w/ regard to Science and Technology in Fantasy Writing

Fantasy and its subgenres give you a bit more leeway in your science than, say, an action thriller. But just how technically accurate it needs to be will depend upon the type of fantasy you're writing.

 Hard science fiction is by far the least forgiving of the fantasy flavors.Your technology must be just that, technology. Whereas, Harry Potter's Nimbus 2000 is powered by that elusive thing called magic, in sci fi, the reader wants, at the very least, to know that the author understand what powers that thousand-foot pickle-shaped space ship.

In some stories, it may be appropriate for the writer to go into great detail about the technology, especially if the search for fuel is part of the plot. But long drawn out explanations are in danger of becoming tedious if they lack humor and/or extreme cleverness, so beware.

In Doctor Who, the TARDIS cannot exist in real life, but there is at least some pseudo-scientific principles involved in how it works and how it can be larger on the inside than the outside, even if the Doctor's explanations are sometimes exercises in hazy and humorous double-talk.

Douglas Adams gets down right fanciful, with his Infinite Improbability Drive and Bistromathic Drive. Again, his amusingly logical linguistic tricks, make his technology seem almost, but not entirely, believable.

Fanciful science fiction works, in part, because the writer understands basic concepts of real science. It's the same with plausible science fiction. Understanding how real life lasers work can help you invent plausible laser weapons. *Laser Weapon article.

Steampunk is a fun subgenre of science fiction. In The City of Lost Children, while the night vision eye-pieces seem somewhat modern, the dream-sucking hats are incredible. Steampunk technology doesn't have to work in the real world. A flying bicycle that couldn't, in reality, leave the ground, may very well take you to the moon, because the story is written with a nostalgic (particularly Victorian) mindset.

The world you create must be consistent to itself. I touched on this in an earlier post. You may want to sign up for author, Karina Fabian's, Worldbuilding class.

Consider what subgenre of fantasy you are writing. What makes sense? Even if you're writing a Tolkienesk fantasy where the highest technology are bows and catapults, you'll want to know how those contraptions work. How are swords and armor forged? Which metals should be used? That's not to say that you will include a three page scene featuring a blacksmith, but knowing about it will help you, the writer, understand the objects so familiar to your characters.

Lastly, pass your story to someone you can trust to give you a true reaction and see how much eye-rolling you get. You'll learn what aspects are not believable and hopefully which details are simply inaccurate.

Your nurse friend will mention how you messed up that scene about the syringe. The gun enthusiast in your critique group will chuckle as he reminds you that your character should have reloaded by now. Thank these people, no matter how dumb they make you feel. They'll help you grow wiser.


Catherine Leigh said...

Speaking of which . . . I'm going to need an opinion about getting my colonists to their planet. I have a few ideas but what I like best for sciency reasons, doesn't work as well for my story. Need to bounce the options off others to see how they fly (pun intended). So be prepared for my attack when I next see you.

Palindrome said...

I don't have any scifi projects in the works. It's something I enjoy but not something I write.

Great advice for those scifi writers.

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Thank you both for stopping by. :)

Attack away!:)
Though, I'm no expert on space travel. But don't tell anyone. :P

Well, the general idea fits with other forms of fantasy. The world a writer builds must be consistant to itself so the reader can fully enter the world. I don't like the term "suspend disbelief." (Neither does, Tolkien.) But I don't want to begin a whole new blog post in a comment box. LOL

Lydia Kang said...

I don't write sci fi, but I'm a geeky-science-y gal, and when the technology or science details in movies and books don't make sense it drives me crazy!

Amanda Borenstadt said...

@Lydia~ Drives me crazy too. It's funny, because I'll enter a fantasy world and believe that dragons exist and whatnot, but some little detail just won't work and the effect it ruined.

Lisa Rusczyk said...

Nice post!

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Thanks, Lisa. :)

Medeia Sharif said...

I agree with this post. The story has to believable. I don't want the author to gloss over details, while some go overboard with them. It's all about balance.

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Thanks Medeia. So true about balance.

Ee Leen Lee said...

The 3 rules I've always followed:

1) a planet never has just one climate/terrain (Arrakis is not all desert, there's ice at the poles...)

2)Alien societies are also never homogenous

3) And human societies are never homogenous, not now and not in the future

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Brilliant points, Ee!
I did not remember that about Dune.
Wow, world building is fun but so complicated! :)

Victoria Dixon said...

Great post! Thanks!

Amanda Borenstadt said...

Thanks, Victoria! :)

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