Written by Danielle Wilson
Sunday, 30 September 2012 09:19
Your science, and the world which it’s in, needs to be seamless. Nothing breaks a reader out of the story better than bad science. The importance of scientific plausibility cannot be stressed enough. This article will give a few pointers on how to make it a little more plausible.
Plausibility Above Accuracy
Scientific plausibility is when the reader believes what you are saying and buys into it. This is not to be confused with scientific accuracy. Scientific accuracy is precision and specific science in an already developed field. You shouldn’t go around spouting scientific measures and the precise theories of the things you are talking about. Not only is that telling, not showing, but it also reads boring, you are writing a work of fiction, not a science text book.
The readers won’t understand when you talk about the specifics and the accuracy doesn’t ensure that your science isn’t going to fail. If you go too in depth and insist on every scientific action then you will lose the reader. You need to ensure that what you are saying is believable. Scientific plausibility is the art of making something realistic, and as such, the readers will read it and accept it without stopping to consider or figure out if what you are saying is correct. So, when someone mentions scientific plausibility, don’t panic. They are not asking you for the exact theory or you to know everything about the specific bit of science you are discussing. It is simply saying: make it believable.
With every freedom there comes limitations and boundaries. It is a rule with everything that we know. We are free as long as we abide by the laws of the land. We can do what we like as long as we don’t do too much of it. Everything in moderation. Every possible world will have rules and boundaries, why should yours world be any different? More on this in Flawed Logic.
With fiction, you are free to write what you like. It’s made up; there are no laws or boundaries for what you write because it isn’t real. But…that’s not strictly true. If your fictional story has no rules then it would be chaos. The reader will have no idea what is going on and neither will you, the author. You are able set your own boundaries and limitations as you see fit. But on top of this freedom, you have to take into account the basic foundational laws of science. You cannot discard them or pretend that they don’t exist. The reader just won’t buy it. Your boundaries are what give your world reality and allows some structure and base for the story.
We can’t just leave it there can we? If we just accepted that we had to work within the boundaries of science then the world you are creating would be the same as this world and that isn’t really science fiction now is it? The boundaries are there but they are not absolute.
This is the fun bit: Violate those laws!
If you want no gravitational force and you want people flying around everywhere as part of daily life ‑ make it happen! You want night to no longer exist and the sun to be out 24 hours a day ‑ do it ! You want people to breathe in air which contains all the nutrients of food three times a day as a replacement of food ‑ go for it! There are no limits to what you could do!
There is one condition. You need to explain WHY that is the case. You need a valid and believable reason for the way the world is. Why is it the case that these rules of science are broken? How can people survive without food? Or why is there no night? No gravitational force? The key is that you have the rules and you violate and twist them but you have to have a reason. If you cannot supply a reason, whatever it may be, people will not believe it and that bad science that we were talking about at the beginning, will break the illusion.
Further to this, you can set your own boundaries. You do need certain absolute laws in any world, although it is a world of change (just as any world is), it can’t be in a constant state of flux. It isn’t realistic. By all means, these absolute laws can be of your creation (with good reason of course) but there has to be some structure to your world. If you change everything about the science and the laws then it will be too much for the reader to comprehend. Remember, science is meant to be the seamless background and setting, not the main story.
Consistency is key. If this goes wrong, the reader will notice. It is one of the easiest errors to make and also one of the worse. You need to maintain the illusion. You need to ensure that what you are saying threads through your entire story. It can be tedious to go through it all and ensure that all the laws and the rules are consistent throughout, but it is worth the hassle. Your world, like any world, is constantly changing but it remains consistent. The sun still rises every morning and sets every night. If you drop something, it falls. These laws don’t change in an instant and yours shouldn’t either. It is the quickest way to break the illusion and to pull the reader out of the story. It may help if you write all your laws and the boundaries of you story down as you create them. This way you have a point of reference should you need it.
And finally…research. You are probably sick of hearing this word by now but its importance cannot be overstated. If you don’t know what you are talking about, how can you expect the reader to know? You cannot discuss them or violate the laws of nature/science without knowing what they are to begin with. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t need a science degree or be an expert in an obscure field, but a little research throughout your story gives it an air. It ensures that you know what you are talking about and this will come across in the writing.
Actively incorporate research, consistency, and plausibility, into everything that you write. Once you have a foundation of the laws of a particular science, you can then begin to twist them so as to mold with your story and the boundaries that you have set. All while keeping the science seamless and plausible.
Last Updated on Sunday, 30 September 2012 09:25