Specifying the Science Behind Plot Devices

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Specifying the Science Behind Plot Devices

Postby sparrowling » Wed Aug 15, 2018 11:20 pm

I am a very technical and scientific and analytical person and it bothers me to no end when there are uncertainties behind how a new technology introduced in a science fiction novel is left unexplained or open to interpretation by the reader without going into details into how it is possible or probable. Therefore, I have spent a long time trying to develop a technology to be used in my futurist novel that has a working core as its driver. What are people's opinions about leaving all this loose and flaky?
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Re: Specifying the Science Behind Plot Devices

Postby crit34670 » Thu Aug 16, 2018 2:42 am

Greetings!

Two factors come into play for me, as a reader, when it comes to the reality of the technology presented in a story or a novel.

Firstly, is it hard sci-fi or aspiring to be so? If that's the case, yes, I expect at least a solid effort at presenting technology that is backed up with good explanation and accurate descriptions, whether it's an Apollo moon shot or a faster-than-light drive. If the piece isn't aiming for a hard sci-fi feel, I don't worry about it. Which leads to the second factor...

Consistency. If you're going to give me a hard sci-fi story, I would like it to carry through for the full length. If you explain the FTL drives, the FTL communication, the gravity fields in ships... and throw in teleporters without a word of explanation, you're going to damage my suspension of disbelief. Likewise, in a lighter story I generally don't expect a detailed explanation of some piece of tech in the middle of it (unless some plot point hinges on it).

All told, I'm good with either approach. And being someone who doesn't go for the technical explanations in my own writing, I have great respect for those who go the extra mile to make sure there is verisimilitude in their work.

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Re: Specifying the Science Behind Plot Devices

Postby sparrowling » Thu Aug 16, 2018 9:43 pm

That's nice to hear, Eric. I believe what I'm going for is hard sci-fi, but I won't include anything too far fetches as intergalactic travel or faster than light drives. It's not going to be too far into the future. However, I'm still finding it difficult to make everything I come up with believable enough and well-explained as a sort of possibility we can, in fact, aspire to ourselves. I may have a certain vehicle for my technical explanations and it may play a large role is story development. I am still thinking about perspectives and character development techniques, voice and tone, and attitude behind my writing, so I'm trying out a few drafts right now to figure that all out. Depending on that will determine what is possible and practical.
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Re: Specifying the Science Behind Plot Devices

Postby crit32566 » Tue Aug 21, 2018 2:35 pm

Hello Sparrow,

If it's hard sci-fi, I agree with aiming for more detail. If you want to do it without too much backstory or info-loading(my nemesis), you can explain your tech in conversation rather than in exposition. That goes a long way. Also, if it seems far-fetched, bring in an unbelieving character, or the dumb character who is necessary to ask the obvious questions for the reader so that you can explain it without too much narrative. This not only presents your science, but furthers your character relationships, so that your story progresses like a good ride should. :)

I'm working on the same thing.

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Re: Specifying the Science Behind Plot Devices

Postby sparrowling » Wed Aug 22, 2018 10:12 pm

Hi Lael!

I was thinking of explaining the detail within thoughts of characters and dialogue between scientists or maybe a combination of the two. Some of it is necessary to understand the main plot device and how it relates to the theme of the story. It's very interesting to be pointed towards the concept of hard sci-fi. I never knew it was an actual term for what I was looking for. I am inspired to do some free writing for experimentation. I think my weakness is writing character development and interaction, although I haven't done a larger project before. I've only done short stories.
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Re: Specifying the Science Behind Plot Devices

Postby crit33524 » Mon Nov 19, 2018 12:05 am

I'm perfectly comfortable with unexplained technology, depending on context.

In fact, in some contexts it can be hard to justify the explanations. Your average space traveler's knowledge of an FTL drive is going to consist of how long it takes to go from here to there and which interstellar cruise lines have the best buffets; they might be interested in an explanation of how FTL works, as a treatment for insomnia. A couple of FTL engineers aren't going to talk in any detail about how it works, because they both already know.

(Yes, I know you aren't doing FTL; but the same basic problem applies to any other technology. Reality: I'm a retired computer programmer, did it professionally for over 30 years, I know VASTLY more about computers than the average person, but I have only a vague idea of the physics behind microprocessors and couldn't design a floating-point-multiply circuit if my life depended on it.)

Naturally, if the details of how some technology works are critical to the plot, that's different - but I have to ask: are they really? Or is it the details of the limits on what the technology can do? Is it "this is how the space drive works", or "if you pump enough energy into the drive to do that, the waste heat is going to melt your spaceship"?
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