Tweet of the Day: Writing Excuses 9.4: Artificial Intelligence with Nancy Fulda
A vigilante can’t operate in a world with effective law enforcement. He would probably end up sharing a cell with the very crooks he is trying to stop. A superhero would be pretty useless without supervillains to oppose him. A fantasy world filled to the brim with adventurers needs hordes of evil monsters to slay in filthy dungeons full of treasure. A planet-of-the-week sci-fi series needs an easy way to get to those planets, well, every week.
Welcome to the Adventure-Friendly World!
This is the reason why speculative fiction writers spend so much time on world building. The setting must create and sustain the very adventures the writers proposes to create. It sometimes turns into a chicken and egg situation: which came first, the need for mercenaries to fight wars or the wars that spawned endless amounts of mercenaries? However there are two things one must consider when creating this trope: calibration and exploitation.
Calibration means that the world is adjusted to the type of plots presented in the work. Often writers will create plot lines that don’t seem to fit with the setting they are in, relying on such tropes as the Rule Cool, or the Rule Funny to hang lampshades over the plot holes that open up before them. In the first example above, it really doesn’t make sense to have vigilantes running around if the cops are competent at their jobs. The reader will be left to wonder why a) there is a need for such a figure and b) why haven’t the cops arrested the maniac for interfering in their cases.
Exploitation requires the author to extrapolate from the confluence of setting and plot. Magic is a great example of this. The ability to conjure fire from thin air, instant travel to any location or even the humble healing potion can transform a setting in many ways. Yet, many authors shy away from exploiting these opportunities. Superhero science never affects the man on the street, magic that can bring people from the dead does not improve lives of the peasantry, and powerful weapons do nothing to change the nature of warfare.
Failure to do the above can crack the veneer of suspension of disbelief so necessary to speculative fiction.