Tweet of the Day: Writing Excuses 6.6: Cyberpunk
Outnumbered a Billion-to-One?
Must destroy a planet right now to show how bad ass you are?
Is there a pesky One-Million-Mook army closing on your position?
Then you need to whip up the Wave Motion Gun!
For a writer, the introduction of one of these serves to raise the stakes in one of two ways: 1) the WMG is in the hands of the bad guys (FOR MASSIVE TEWOH!, okay, I know I have a problem, I’ll stop now), which means that the good guys must find a way to counter it/destroy it or 2) the good guys, in a quest to defeat the overwhelming enemy.
These weapons tend to be awesome but impractical because of the resources needed to research, develop and deploy the weapon (think Death Star) and like a real world nuke, the side effects of using one are messy to say the least (most often the weapon is used in deep space, away from populated planets, moons or interstellar cruise ships). That and the fact that a much cheaper, faster firing and easier to deploy piece of tech can probably do the job in a tenth or hundredth of the cost.
The real reason, of course, is to keep the coolness of the weapon by making it unique, otherwise everybody would have one, and common ain’t cool. Also fights would be reduced to either one sided massacres (whoever fires first wins), mutually assured destruction or lengthy stand-offs. So potent is the WMG that it risks being reduced to the McGuffin of the story. So thread lightly when introducing one to the story.
It can also serve as a Oh Crap! moment, either when it shows up (uttered by whoever is going to get pwned by it) or when it is fired and nothing happens, the enemy survives with barely a scratch. Again, care must be taken not to abuse either option if don’t want to bore the reader or have him throw the book away in disgust.
Best save it for a critical moment.