Know the World You Create

What makes writing science fiction and fantasy stories so interesting and so challenging is world building.  Every form of fiction writing, and even poetry, requires some world building.  For fiction you start by deciding what kind of story you’re going to write.  Then you pick your characters.  This done by picking the right names.  After that, you figure out who your characters are.  Then you figure out where and when they live, what the terrain is like, what the weather is like, whether they rich, poor, sane, insane, or something in between, et cetera, et cerera.

But in science fiction, which is what I write and some of these subjects are also true of fantasy, you have to create believable worlds and technology from your own imagination.  Oh, you can get help from others.  That’s not cheating, nor is it being unimaginative, but rather it’s being open to new ideas.  After all, the fuel for our imaginations are the ideas of other people that we are exposed to.

And while we are waiting for that inspiration to come to us, we listen to music, we watch films and TV, play games, read books, swim, dance, going running, go for walks, mountain climb, in essence we live our lives and that living feeds our imaginations with more metaphysical food.

Now, some people think metaphysics has solely to do with religion.  Well, metaphysics is about thought.  Physics deals with the material world, the PHYSICAL world.  Metaphysics concerns the mind, not the body or the brain.  The brain might be the vessel that holds the mind, but it is not the mind.

Why do I mention the meaning of metaphysics?  Because years ago when I was in a chat room and mentioned the word  metaphysics several people took offense at me for bringing religion into the discussion.  I tried to explain that mathematics was metaphysical, and so was the imagination and one member group stated that he knew for a fact that metaphysics was only about religion and nothing else.   So I suggested he look it up in a dictionary and he refused.  He stated that he “knew what he knew” (circular logic) and didn’t need to look anything up.

Don’t let yourself be bamboozled and led astray by people who know little and claim to know much.  (That could apply to me, too, so be careful.)  Research things yourself.

That’s the important message here: Do your research.  Even if you’re making up a language or a world, or even technology that doesn’t exist yet, do your research.  Don’t make it so fantastic that it defies was is logical and believable.

As writers, we should all know what the meaning of the phrase “suspension of disbelief” means.  Simply, it applies to how people get deeply involved in stories, whether in film or the printed or electronic word and let themselves become part of that world.  When your audience stands up and says “that impossible!” then you’ve lost your audience.  At best, they’ll fold their arms and sit down and watch or read with disbelief.  At worst, they’ll avoid your work for ever more.

(A little note here, you can be completely outrageous with comedy and get away with messing with the suspension of disbelief.  But you can also push it too far and when you do, your audience gets up and walks away.)

If, for example, you are writing either a novel or screen play about American Marines in World War 2 storming a Japanese-held island where the Japanese are standing out in the open gunning down the Marines as they come ashore and a US Navy battleship is firing its guns at the Japanese, hurling shells filled with hundreds of pounds of explosives and the shells when they explode have no effect on the island’s defenders, but when the Marines get closer they toss their hand grenades, each filled with a few ounces of explosives and the grenades have effects similar to atomic bombs, killing all the enemy, your audience will stand up and scream “What the fuck just happened?” and either hurl your book to the ground or leave your film.  And they’re going to tell everybody about it, too.

I saw a big budget film like that back in the late 1990s or possibly the early 2000s.  I stayed for whole sad, UNBELIEVABLE film.  And then I told my friends about it, they didn’t go to it.  And apparently, a lot of other people told lots of their friends about it, too, because it tanked.

Know your world.  Whatever you create, it has to be believable.  Yes, it’s fiction, but people have to believe in it, they have to relate to it.  And if you don’t respect for your audience, they won’t respect for you.  Just like in the real world, whatever that is.

Have fun.


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