Making Make-Believe Believable: Surround the unbelievable with the believable by transforming believable items into items that are unbelievable.
If you are new to this blog, I’ve been writing a series of posts about writing speculative fiction, including fantasy, science fiction, steampunk, comic books, paranormal, and horror. For the full list, click here or on the category called “Making Make-Believe Believable.”
For the next week or so, we will be concentrating on the first technique for helping your reader suspend disbelief: Surround the Unbelievable with the Believable. Here are a few examples of methods we can use:
- The Details Example (click here for the blog post)
- The Transformation Example
- The Social Norm Example
- The Hybrid Example
- The Archetype Example
Today, we will focus on the transformation example.
My high school friend, Dean, owned a 1976 Toyota Celica. Bear in mind that my high school pulled from the wealthiest neighborhoods in Naples. Many of the students in the school drove Porsches and other such cars. A 1976 Celica may not have seemed exciting, but that was before Dean got hold of it. He painted it teal (a popular car color at the time). He also added a few James Bond-esque touches. If you happened to be sitting behind Dean at a stoplight, you might get sprayed with water or smoke, and he even stored a tiny jar of Grey Poupon in the dashboard in case anyone might ask for it. (If you watched commercials during the early 90’s, you know why that’s awesome!) Dean may not have driven a Porsche, but he had the coolest car ever. All he needed to so was transforme a believable Celica into something unbelievable.
You might find it easier to transform items that are believable into items that are unbelievable than to throw unknown items at your reader. Here are a few examples:
- The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. I love the scene in The Hobbit where Thorin and Gandalf are smoking pipes in Bilbo’s dining room and blowing smoke rings—perfectly believable things. We understand smoke rings; we know what they are. Gandalf’s smoke rings, however, change colors and move in between Thorin’s smoke rings. Tolkien surrounded Gandalf’s ability to do magic with believable smoke rings. He actually had transformed Gandalf’s smoke rings into something unbelievable, and it is the first bit of real magic we see Gandalf do.
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling: The Weasley family car is an example of transforming a believable item into something unbelievable. The car is a normal car, except that Mr. Weasley has tampered with it and given it magical properties. Speaking of cars…
- Back to the Future: Science fiction writers, look no further than Dr. Brown’s DeLorean transformed into a time machine.
- Dr. Who: He has a Tardis. Need I say more? Believable item. Unbelievable properties.
- Outlander by Diana Gabaldon: The heroine, Claire, touches a standing stone on a Scottish hill and is transported back in time. The believable standing stone contains unbelievable properties.
Make sure to use items you wish to transform that are applicable to the time period in which you are writing. If you are writing a steampunk story, you can’t use a cell phone. Likewise, if you are writing science fiction, you need to use items available to your characters in the future. Note that characters in any genre might find a relic or something from the past that possesses a magical power (such as in our Outlander example).
What to take from this: Giving unbelievable properties to believable items is a great way to surround the unbelievable with the believable, provided that you make sure the item is something your character would have access to.
Mainstream Writers: Add wonder into your stories by transforming an ordinary object into something believable but outrageous. Remember Dean’s Celica. Transform a gym into a prom setting. Have a character take a dress from Goodwill and make it a dress to die for. You can keep your story bound by natural law, but still create the same magic Cinderella once experienced.
Speculative Writers: If you feel like you are struggling to create something big, awesome, and magical, try pulling back and using a regular object instead. Your reader will already be familiar with it, so you won’t have to spend precious words describing it, and it might just make your reader feel the same way she did when Dorothy put on those oh-so-famous ruby slippers.
Fantasy novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason. Weston speaks to children, teens, and adults about writing and the process of getting published. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. Find out more about The Elysian Chronicles at www.elysianchronicles.com.