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Monday, November 17, 2008

The Realism Thing

A thread from one of my forums got me thinking.

The original post lamented the seeming inability of SF works to portray realistic space warfare.

At first glance, it's a good point. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized the lament falls flat.

The post wants realistic space warfare in science fiction.

But this is fiction.

Operative word: fiction.

We fictioneers deal with "what might happen." "What might be." Speculative.

As in spec-fic, or speculative fiction.

Again, there's that word. Fiction.

We deal with "things we don't know, but here's one way it might work/might happen."

That's not to say that we should sacrifice scientific laws simply to tell our stories. Place the story within the realm of the possible, yes.

But when I read it, I want to feel my pulse racing. I don't want to get bogged down in pages of written our astrophysics when you could simply say the ship didn't maneuver in time, collided with the asteroid, and blew apart.

I found that A. Lee Martinez weighed in on the issue:
Research is great if it helps you write your story. But if it gets in your way or limits your imagination or seems . . . just wrong to your audience then it isn't an asset. It's an obstacle.

This is not to say that research can't be useful. Even necessary depending on what you're writing. But it's not an excuse to write a dull story, to drown your reader in a sea of details while neglecting to give them characters worth caring about.


Research does not make a good story.
Lawrence Block puts it this way in Telling Lies For Fun & Profit:
[F]akery is the very heart and soul of fiction. All our novels and short stories are nothing but a pack of lies.

Unless your writing is pure autobiography in the guise of fiction, you will continually find yourself practicing the dark arts of the illusionist and the trade of the counterfeiter.
In the end, our job is to entertain.

Let's not forget that.

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