If you want to make your make-believe elements feel believable, they have to work correctly and logically within the world you have created.
For the past few weeks, 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.”) This week, we are taking a closer look at the second rule for making readers suspend their disbelief and buy into our story’s make-believe elements: Rule #2—Make Your Make-Believe Feel Believable. We will be discussing these four techniques:
- Use of sensory details
- Creating imperfection
- Relying on character reactions
- The use of make-believe in everyday life
Today, we will focus on the last item on the list: The use of make-believe in everyday life.
One of my good friends in elementary school was a boy named Beau. One day, Beau and I decided to play with Legos. We didn’t just grab a box of Legos and begin building houses and store fronts. No, my friends, Beau and I were much more creative than that. We decided that we would each build a Lego space station. Then, we would have a contest to see whose space station could hold up in a battle against the other’s.
Our contest did not involve throwing objects at the other station. It involved strategy during the design period and creativity during battle. It sounded something like this:
Me: I’m going to fire missiles at you with my proton torpedo. (We watched a lot of Star Wars, as you can imagine.)
Beau: You can’t. My force field is up, and it’s too strong. I’m sending lunar rocks your way with this catapult.
Me: I have a force field too, you know.
Beau: Oh. Well, you don’t see it, but I have an underground tunnel (our stations were based on the moon), and my people have just placed bombs underneath you.
Me: Oh really? Well, my guards sensed them coming with their radar, and your guys are dead! Oh, look, now I have extra bombs.
You can imagine how long it took to determine a winner. (And people wonder how I became I writer of fantasy and science fiction with strong military themes…)
In our little game, we each had to think through how our particular space stations were designed, and we needed to use the resources we had given ourselves creatively. We developed all sorts of weapons and defenses. While we didn’t need to know how they all worked, we needed to know how they were used and when to use them. We had to make sure everything worked in the environment because our adversary would point out when something was askew. “You can’t have your guys out there for four hours! They’d run out of oxygen. Nice try,” might have been something one of us said.
Your make-believe elements need to hold up and work within the world you’ve created the same way our Lego space stations did. Your make-believe elements also need to be used, and used correctly. This is one way you can make your make-believe feel believable.
Many techniques you can use to this are similar to those discussed in yesterday’s post on character reactions. Rather than retype everything, click here if you need a refresher. I figured I would add two more techniques that specifically are used for make-believe worlds and elements rather than character reactions:
Think through the logic of a) how something works or b) the rules of your world to make sure they don’t have any flaws. This will require extra time and effort on your part. In my Elysian Chronicles series, my angels can morph into humans. I created a bunch of rules for how it worked, including what happens to their clothing and weapons. (Clothing stays the same, the weapons technically stay the same, but saying more would give away parts of book 3.) And human-angels can’t see angel-angels because they have taken on the full characteristics of humans, so if my point of view character is human, he or she can’t see what is going on in the other dimension. A Prophecy Forgotten contains a scene where five angels engage in battle against each other. They begin morphing into humans, then back into angels, then back into humans. This scene was a nightmare to write. I spent hours follow through with each character to make sure I knew what dimension he or she was in, what happened to their weapons, what point of view I was writing from… Despite my best efforts, I still ended up with a bow and arrow—the key character-saving tool in the scene—in the wrong dimension, and we couldn’t fix it until the novel’s 2nd edition.
Here is part of that scene. When the scene began, Gabriella was an angel who had morphed into a human and was wearing human clothing. When she morphed back into an angel, I didn’t realize I had some clothing issues until I put myself in the scene. My big problem: her human clothing was not designed for wings. Here’s how I fixed it:
Gabriella’s wings tore through the sweatshirt she was wearing, and she soared out of the house and over the trees, all too glad to be free of her human body. She turned around and flew back to the house to help the major keep Tommy alive.
Can you imagine what would have happened if the book was published and every reader realized that Gabriella’s wings would not have fit inside her sweatshirt? Follow through with your logic. Use charts if you have to.
Use If/Then Questions: “If this happens, then what would happen to this?” is something you need to ask yourself consistently about your make-believe elements. My mornachts (demon creatures) explode about 3 minutes after they die. It sounded like a cool thing to create, and it was a new concept I had never heard of before. However when I started writing, I realized that exploding bodies created a few problems and interesting situations for me:
- My main characters were in what we may as well refer to as “angel special ops.” (I call them RSO’s for Reconnaissance & Sabotage Order, but that’s a whole other subject.) Through using if/then questions, I realized that exploding bodies would put a damper on my soldiers’ secret missions. I kept the exploding bodies and wrote around the problem.
- I also realized that these exploding bodies would make great bombs if thrown at the right time. This has saved my characters’ lives more than once.
Here is an example of part of scene that would never have happened if I had not used if/then questions. (NOTE: Boronan is a unicorn.):
One of the mornachts jumped off the saber and landed on Boronan’s back. It wrapped its fingers around Davian’s throat.
“I’ll crush you like a sprite!” it hissed.
Davian reached into his boot, grabbed his dagger, and pushed it behind him right into the mornacht’s belly. Then he broke the mornacht’s neck and held on until the corpse began to steam.
“He’s going to blow, sir!” yelled Marcus.
Davian ignored Marcus and waited until fire spewed out of the mornacht’s armor. He heaved the smoldering body into the thickest pack of wolves. It exploded just as they pounced, killing most of the pack.
The question I probably asked myself: “If mornachts can explode, then why can’t Davian use this one as a bomb?” If/then questions are some great tools to use if you want to make your world and your make-believe elements work.
What to take from this: Yet again, to make your unbelievable world feel believable, you have to put yourself in the scene. Follow through with you make-believe elements and ask yourself if/then questions.
Mainstream Writers: The same goes for you, especially if you are introducing real items that many people haven’t experienced.
Speculative Writers: You will definitely need someone else to read your work to make sure your story makes sense and to give you ideas.
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.