Thursday, September 3, 2015

Hampered By Reality

I have a problem.  I like stories that make sense.  A story must be consistent within its own universe or I can't get into it.  Further, within the context of reality as I understand it, pieces of a story have to be believable.  I have a hard time getting into stories where fish give birth to live chickens and cars suddenly transform into magical bits of candy.

Okay, I made those last two up, but you get the picture.  While we write for our imaginations, if a story goes too whack-a-doodle, it saps the enjoyment out of it.  It makes me wonder if, for this reason, I should stop trying to learn about things.

Ignorance can be a powerful tool for an author.  The majority of people don't know the basics of a tank battle, so any description will do.  Most people have no idea how a primitive society might function, so a plausible description will likely work.  Most have a base knowledge, but nothing beyond that, so they can easily latch onto whatever sounds good.  This is where those of us who study stuff get in trouble.

I love sci-fi, but there are bits of it that make me shake my head.  For example, the speed limit of the universe is the speed of light.  Any first year physics student can tell you that.  Why then do we write about warp drives and traveling faster than light?  Because our stories would be boring if we couldn't.  We'd limit ourselves to our solar system, and there hasn't been a lot of alien activity here.  Similarly, given the speeds involved, if a piece of space dust struck a ship traveling at several million miles an hour, the resulting exchange of energy would eclipse anything seen at Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

While I enjoy learning, once I know something, my gut tendency is to assume everyone else knows it too.  That means there's tons of stuff I can't write about because I can no longer assume my audience is made up of morons.

Is this an artistic failure?  Probably.  Most folks just want to read a story that's enjoyable, and they don't delve into the minutiae of which artillery munition is the right choice at a specific range or which antibiotic can treat which disease.  Unfortunately, I do, and this leads me to provide too much background on things that readers couldn't care less about.  It's a hampering mechanism, and I wonder how many other writers experience this.

Is ignorance really bliss?  Should we shrug off certain knowledge that's not universal just so we can write a good novel?  I really want to know.  At what point does our quest for believability obstruct our pursuit of a good story, and where does it stray into the stupid?

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