Last week I ended up finishing the editing/feedback draft of my new project (as mentioned in the newsletter), which meant I woke up Thursday morning and said “crap, I need to write a ranty blog post!” But as I started hammering away at it I quickly realized this topic wasn’t quite as quick and easy as it was in my head. So it didn’t get done Thursday. And Friday is errands. And now it’s the weekend again and okay look, I missed a week.

Anyway, I’ve talked about worldbuilding here once or thrice before, but I thought it’d be worth revisiting a certain facet of it that I talked about on Twitter a month or four back.

And that facet involves my time machine.

Well, okay, let’s back up a bit.

We’ve all read stories that revolve around some shiny-new technology. Supercomputers. Self-aware androids. Teleportation machines. Dimensional gateways. They’re the basis of so many books, comics, television shows, movies, games, and probably some other storytelling format I can’t think of. Oral tradition? Probably lots of androids in those eastern European folk tales that are verbally passed down through the generations.

I think we can all agree that having some kind of future/super technology as the basis my story is a kind of worldbuilding. If I’ve got a machine that’s going to change the world, I need to understand the machine, the world, and what kind of changes it’s going to make. So, like any type of worldbuilding, I need to have a lot of it planned out from the start. I have to be able to answer basic questions about it, because my readers will ask these questions. And they’ll ask because, by it’s very nature, we expect technology to operate in specific, predictable ways. That’s one of the things that makes it different from magic (hold your Clarke’s law responses).

And that brings us to my time machine.

If I tell you I’ve got a time machine, there’s a bunch of things we can expect people are going to want to know. For example, is the time machine real? Did you build it or just find it? No, seriously, is it real? How did you build a time machine when you can’t figure out custom ringtones on your phone?

Past those, though, there’s a bunch of things people might ask. Can you travel in time both ways, forward and back? Does the machine travel through time or does it just send you through time? If the machine travels with you, does it need some kind of energy or fuel? If it needs fuel, is there a limit to how far back/forward it can go in one trip?

And that’s before we even get into all the other bigger, standard time travel questions. What happens to the present if I change something in the past? If I know the future, can I change the future? Does the time machine compensate somehow for planetary motion?

This is a standard part of any worldbuilding. If I want to alter the world in my story somehow with a new element—for example, with a piece of technology that doesn’t exist—I need to stop and think about all the ramifications this new element is going to have. How will it change things? How will it interact with the existing world? To paraphrase Fredrick Pohl (who I think was paraphrasing someone else when he said it), a good sci-fi story doesn’t predict the car, it predicts the traffic jam.

If I, the writer, don’t know the answer to any of these basic questions, I think it tends to create problems somewhere down the road. There are two big ones, I think…

The first is general inconsistency. People use the time machine this way in chapter four, but then use it this way in chapter twelve. And, yes, we killed Hitler in 1938 but we’re… uhhhh… we’re just not going to talk about it. It’s a huge, major, historical event, but let’s, y’know, just pretend it didn’t happen. Everything turned out exactly the same anyway. Because the time machine ran out of the, uhhh, chronoline that it runs on.

See, if I don’t know the rules it’s hard for me—or my reader—to know if I’m breaking them. Which kind of means I’m cheating. It’s something I’ve talked about before—trying to world build in the third act.

The second issue is that if I don’t set any rules for how my technology works, I’m going to be trying to create tension/ conflict/ drama out of nothing. If I have no context for how the tech works, it’s hard to tell if something is difficult or dangerous or even impossible.

For example, if I say I’m using the time machine to send Wakko a million years into the past for two hours. Okay, so is that… risky? Supposed to be impossible? A normal Friday? Is there a reason it’s two hours and not three? If I don’t have any ground rules for how the tech works, I can’t tell if my characters are doing something amazing with it or not. And I can’t tell if their reactions are rational, irrational, or completely melodramatic.

Really, both of these boil down to needing context. My readers aren’t going to know how to feel about something if I don’t know how I want them to feel about it. And I can’t know unless I’ve established some sort of norm.

Look at it this way. If I tell you I’m taking a plane to Boston, you’d say “Oh, okay.” If I tell you I’m taking a plane to Cairo, Egypt, you might raise an eyebrow and say “Really?” And if I tell you I’m taking a plane to Jupiter, you might think I was nuts. Or drunk. And if I told you I was taking a plane to heaven, because heaven is up in the clouds and that’s where planes go, you might be tempted to call someone for my own safety.

Let me give you one more. There’s an old WWII Bugs Bunny cartoon where he’s fighting a little gremlin on a plane. And after several go-rounds between them, the plane ends up in a nosedive, hurtling towards the ground as both of them scream. Fortunately, the plane runs out of gas at the last minute and ends up stopping a few feet from the ground. Laughter ensues.

All of these different statements and examples make sense because we know how planes work and how they’re generally used. It’ s pretty standard to fly cross-country, but a little unusual to fly halfway around the world. We know planes can’t fly to other planets and definitely not to the afterlife. And we absolutely know a plane isn’t going to stop moving in mid-air because it ran out of gas.

If I’m creating a new tech, I need my readers and characters to have this sort of understanding of it. Because maybe my time machine would stop in mid-air if it runs out of fuel. Or maybe it slingshots back to wherever it started. Maybe it just goes to the last destination date we gave it. Or it might just sit there until we can figure out how to channel 1.21 gigawatts into the flux capacitor.

Now, let me toss out four conditionals.

One is that I don’t need to explain everything about my time machine and how it works. Within my story, a lot of people are going to know how X works, and people usually don’t sit around talking about things they already know. Especially if they’re well-established in my world. People don’t need to have conversations about how cars work every time they go for a drive. But people in our world all understand cars well enough to know something’s wrong when the engine makes a grinding noise or fluid gushes out from beneath the hood. And something’s very unusual if the car takes off vertically and flies away. My characters should be acting and reacting in such a way that readers can tell if something’s normal or very odd or horribly wrong with how this piece of tech is working.

Two is that in my story there might be a very good reason people don’t know how my tech works, or won’t talk about how it works. Maybe they accidentally invented it just last week and are still figuring parts of it out. Maybe they’re hiding that it runs on the life-energy of kittens. Maybe it’s got some side effects they’d rather not talk about. But even then—as the writer, I should know how it works. Which means it should still act consistently.

Three is that maybe my tech isn’t doing the thing we think it’s doing. It’s not uncommon to have stories where we find out thing X is actually thing Y. My characters thought they found a time machine that projected people into the past within their lifespan, but really it just creates incredibly lifelike holograms of their own memories. Absolutely nothing wrong with this. But my characters should still have their own ideas of what the tech is doing, and there should be an understandable reason why they think this. And it should be consistent when I reveal what the tech is really doing. That’s just how a twist works.

Fourth and finally, I know somebody’s frothing at the bit to bring up Clarke’s Law, so let’s talk about it real quick. Any sufficiently advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic. I seriously love this one (and it’s inverse, if you’re a Seventh Doctor fan). But by it’s very nature, this also excludes any such devices from this discussion. Clarke’s law literally says we can’t recognize X as technology. So we shouldn’t expect to follow tech rules while we’re writing about it.

Anyway, I’ve been blabbing on about this for a while now and I think you’ve got the idea. If I want to make a time machine– or a teleporter, a psychokinesis drug, cybernetic eyes, bio-booster armor, whatever– I need to have consistent, thought-out rules for how this technology works. And these rules need to be in place on page one. If I’m not going to even think about how time travel in the past affects the present until I’m 2/3 done with my book… I’m probably going to hit some snags.

Next time, I want to talk about Neil Armstrong’s left foot.

No, wait. Your left foot! That’s what we’re going to talk about!

Until then, go write.

May 28, 2021 / 1 Comment

The World’s Changing…

I touched on something a few weeks back that I thought was worth revisiting.

It’s not unusual for us to set stories in fantastic worlds that are close to our own, or maybe not close at all. Maybe it’s our world but with magic. Maybe it’s a futuristic sci-fi utopia or a historical zombie apocalypse. I’ve talked here once or thrice about the Marvel Universe, and how living there would require an entirely different worldview.

There’s a certain kind of worldbuilding we could probably call  “everything you know is wrong” or maybe “revealing the world behind the world.” It’s one of those stories that starts off as the real world, or maybe a real world, except then our heroes come to learn that there’s a lot more to their world than they believed. We establish that we’re here on Earth, in the real world, and then BAM! Aliens are real, and they live among us! Reality is actually a complex computer simulation.  Secret vampire cabals rule the world.

We’ve all seen some version of this, yes? This moment usually comes right before we start our second act. Now that my characters know what the world really is, they can learn what challenges they’re really up against.

That’s what I mentioned before, but wanted to focus on a bit today. The idea that worldbuilding has to happen in the start of my story. I can fill in details later, but the broad strokes stuff needs to happen early on. Definitely in the first half, I’m tempted to say preferably in the first act.  

The reason it needs to happen this early is context. I’ve talked about this a bit before, too. In this case, it’s how we know what’s possible—or what my character thinks is possible—within the world of the story. If we don’t know what’s normal in a story, how do I know what’s supposed to surprise us? I mean, what would be unbelievable in this world? How do I know if my characters are reacting appropriately? If I’m going to keep altering the rules of the world as the story goes on and on, it makes it harder and harder to get invested in the world and the characters.

So if I’m doing some major worldbuilding in act three… it probably means I’m cheating a bit. I’m rewriting the rules in a big way at the last minute. Suddenly, with less than a hundred pages to go, there’s time travel or ghosts or aliens or teleportation or something that puts a whole new spin on everything! And odds are I’m doing it to create some suspense or a new challenge or to get my characters out of a challenge.

And, well… that’s cheating.

Actually, think of it like playing a game. We should have a general sense of all the rules before we really get going. Even if we just handwave over things for now and say “Fighting the basilisk, ehhhh, we’ll get to that one if it ever comes up,” this still tells us there’s the chance of running into a basilisk and there might be special rules for fighting it. So it won’t be a surprise when these rules show up and get explained later. None of us want to play with that person who at the last minute says “Oh, I forgot to mention… I get 100 extra points just for being the blue dwarf.”

But wait, WAIT, says internet guy #23. Hang on! There are LOTS of stories that don’t tell you things up front. That change the rules at the last minute. He was dead all along! They were on Earth the whole time! She’s actually the Viscountess Isabella!

And this is true. Sort of. Third act twists are very common—and freakin’ amazing when they’re done well, BUT…

One of the basic rules of a twist is that it doesn’t violate anything we’ve seen before—it just makes us look at it in a new light. Most of the example twists I just (vaguely) gave don’t change the core premise of their established worlds at all. For example…


When we find out Dr, Malcolm has been dead the whole time, this isn’t new worldbuilding. I mean, we’ve known ghosts are real for most of the movie. We know little Cole can see them. He even flat out told us “some of them don’t even know they’re dead.” The big twist here doesn’t change any rules or limits of the world as they’ve been explained to us, it just changes how we look at Malcolm and his interactions with it.

Want to use the old classic Planet of the Apes. Or any number of Twilight Zone episodes)? In all of these a key thing is establishing interstellar travel one way or another, so it’s not breaking any rules to say we might be on another planet, or these aliens are from another planet. All of these stories involve the inherent assumption of what planet we’re on. So again, the story isn’t cheating—it’s just playing us because it knows what we’re going to assume about the world we’re being shown.

End Spoilers!!

But if, in his final showdown with Harry, we found out Voldemort was a cyborg alien from the future, that’s breaking the world we’ve established for the past six books. Likewise, if the next season of Picard has him bringing Data back to life using ancient Vulcan sorcery… that just sounds like nonsense on a bunch of levels, doesn’t it?

Go build incredible worlds. Have fun with them. Just don’t cheat.

Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for you.

Next time… well, this Monday’s my birthday. So next time we see each other I’ll be older and wiser. That being the case, I’ll probably have share some of that newly found wisdom with you.

Until then, go write. 

August 27, 2020

On the Third Day…

I got a request from Rhyen, which is great because I still haven’t really hammered those ideas on endings or comedy quite into shape. So that’s still some stuff for the future. Or, y’know, somebody else could ask something.


Rhyen wanted to know about worldbuilding. Not just “our world, but with secret werewolves” but full-on, hardcore fantasy worlds, sci-fi worlds, and so on. How (and when) do you come up with histories, cultures, and all that other stuff?

Y’know what? Let’s make this post super-active rather than me blathering away. Right here, right now, let’s look at werewolf world. The other version of it where everybody knows werewolves are real.

Now, I know, we said we were going to do more hardcore settings but just go with me for a minute.

I’ve mentioned Charlie Jane Anders once or thrice before, and her little note that there’s no such thing as “a world just like ours, except…” because any noteworthy “except” is going to change everything. If there really were werewolves and everybody knew about them, so much would be different in the world. Tonsof things.

Don’t believe me? Let’s go over a few things real quick. Just off the top of my head…

Here’s an easy change. There probably wouldn’t be any silver coins. In WereWorld anything with even a scrap of silver would’ve been gathered up and turned into anti-werewolf weapons or defenses. The government would be treating silver like uranium. 

Which, hey… how would warfare be different? Forget atom bombs… imagine if the Manhattan Project involved deliberately infecting a hundred or so troops with lycanthropy and then dropping them all on Nagasakiand Hiroshima on the night of the full moon. A hundred unstoppable killing machines running wild in each city. That’s a terror weapon, right there. And of course, if the Japanese capture two or three alive, now they’ve got their own werewolves.

But now without the USpouring all that money into nuclear warfare and missile programs… where does it all go? Infrastructure? Social programs? Schools? Would there be a Cold War? A Bay of Pigs? And if the Soviet Union leaned into werewolf warfare… what kind of arms races would there be? Would the USSRhave financially collapsed?

And we haven’t even talked about dating or sex in WereWorld. Hunting laws? Home security? Profiling? Legal issues—if I kill someone as a werewolf, am I legally responsible? Is it murder, which requires a degree of forethought, since the werewolf’s essentially an animal (or is it?)?

And all of these assume we just “discovered” werewolves somehow back in the early 1940s. What if it was even earlier? How would global exploration and trade have gone differently five hundred years ago if every twenty-nine days  one of your crew members might kill everyone on the ship? How different would the world map look right now?

Again, this is all off the top of my head. Seriously, I’ve spent maybe ten minutes on this. But I’ve completely rewritten the world, just by being aware that things would inevitably change in this situation.

So, with that in mind…

Creating a setting, any setting, is a lot like creating a character. I want to know them backwards and forwards. It’s fantastic if I have lots and lots of factoids about them easily on hand (you may remember that back before we all took the pandemic plunge, I talked about characters and their underwear choices).

I’ve mentioned character sketches once or thricebefore, and I think worldbuilding can be approached the same way. We come up with the bare basics and then we start fleshing it out by asking questions and maybe following a few paths to their logical outcome. Like I did up above with WereWorld.

Or let’s do something even more divorced from our world. Let’s say it’s going to be a fantasy world, maybe one with some gearpunk elements. So, easy one—is there actual magic in this fantasy world? Is it kind of rare or very common? Does it need components? Are they rare or common? Do people have spell-component gardens the way we might have an herb garden?

How about the gear-tech? How precise is it? Do you need mathematically perfect brass gears or do lots of people carve wooden ones after dinner? What do they use for power? Springs? Counterweights? Two or three big guys turning a crank?

Does magic dominate the gear-tech, or vice versa? Is one notably newer than the other? Does either have detractors, vocal or secretive? Are magic and/or gear-tech novelties or parts of everyday life? Do they ever cross-pollinate, so to speak? Are they expensive or so common everyone has access to some aspect of them?

Considering all of this, now… is this mostly an agrarian world? Are more people farmers? Hunters? Are there gearpunk tractors or crossbows? Magic millstones or knives that can skin anything? And if none of this ever filters down to the common folk… how do they feel about that?

Has the magic or gear-tech made travel easier? Are people still isolated in villages or are there much bigger cities, made possible because of these advances? Do people know more about the world?

Heck, how fantasy is this world? Are there supernatural or mythological creatures? Are they common? Domesticated? Are there things we know or all-new creatures? Does the farmer have a six-legged hexox dragging his plow? Are there gods? Demons? How do they feel about humans playing with magic and gear-tech?

Or heck… is it even humans? Is this about magical halflings or gearpunk elves? I just pictured a gearpunk lizardman and that seemed pretty cool.

If you’ve answered a lot of those questions, I bet you’ve got the beginnings of a pretty solid world in your head. And probably spun off a question or three of your own. Enough so that you can start setting up your plot.

And one thing to keep in mind—just like with characters, this might change as I go along. As the story grows and progresses, I might change a lot. I might add even more. It’s an ongoing process. Halfway through my outline or my first draft, I might realize I need to address currency. And, hey,  maybe this world has a really crappy exchange rate, so it matters if you’re getting paid with glowing quartz or brass gear-coins.

Again, the world is here to serve the story. You’re going to change and tweak it as you go. Maybe all the way up to your last draft. And just like with characters, you’ll keep coming up with cool little details and anecdotes.

Now… there’s three key things to remember…

First, I know I talk about editing things down a lot, but we can all breathe a small sigh of relief here. If I’ve got a story set in another world—a drastically different world—most editors are going to give me a little bit of leeway, word-count wise. They understand I’ll need a few extra pages to explain why Yakko is riding a gearpunk tractor powered by magical crystals.

This doesn’t mean I can go crazy listing details. Or that I can be really blunt with them. No pausing for two pages to randomly describe the wooden sun-and-planet gears in Yakko’s trailer. Or the long history of the mining guild that provides those magic crystals. One more time—say it with me—the world is here to serve the story. It’s okay to have a little extra flavor here and there, but I shouldn’t lose track of what my book is actually about.

Which brings me to my second point. Whenever I create a character, there’s a lot of things about them that are never going to come up in the book. Or maybe they come up, but they’re never explained. I might have tons of rich backstory and weird little details, but a lot of it just never becomes relevant.

For example, in the Threshold books, I know a ton of things about Veek. I know why she’s abrasive with most people. Why she likes wearing men’s suits and ties over women’s power suits. Heck, I made a note of when/how she lost her virginity. But the truth is, none of this has been relevant to any of the books she’s been in. It’s stuff I know, and it helps me make her feel more three dimensional on the page, but ultimately… it’s all kind of irrelevant if it doesn’t have anything to do with this book—with the plot I’m telling and the character’s arc through that plot.

Worldbuilding is the same way. No matter how fantastic or amazing the details of this world might be, they only matter if they’re going to have some kind of impact. While it may be very interesting how this society ended up with a hexadecimal/base sixteen number system, do we need to know any of that history for this story? Yes, WereWorld does have eleven continents and there’s a fascinating story behind it… which has nothing to do with this book.

And even then, I’d argue that if there’s no real reason for something to be different… maybe it shouldn’t be. I think one thing that confuses some people is they see this rich, historied world that the story’s set in and forget the world only exists to serve the story, not the other way around. If you look back at my A2Q discussion about the world Phoebe and Luna live in, I made choices based on what would be interesting for the plot and story, not what would make for an interesting world.

So I shouldn’t be coming up with (and using) new things just to come up with new, different things. I mean George RR Martin just uses leagues for distance in worldbuiding heavyweight A Song of Fire and Ice(perhaps better known by it’s Hollywood stage name, Game of Thrones). It sounds good, a little archaic, and he doesn’t have to waste half a page explaining what hekkrets are.

Or heck, here’s another example… any of you remember that old 70’s indie movie, Star Wars? There’s a great scene where Ben and his would-be-protégé are trying to hire a ship from some lowlife smuggler. And Ben tells him “We can pay you two thousand now plus fifteen… when we reach Alderaan.” Remember that?

So… two thousand what?

No, no, no. Don’t run to novelisations or books or articles that retconned this. Right there in the movie you watched… two thousand what?

Truth is, it doesn’t say and it doesn’t matter. For this story, the type of currency’s irrelevant. I don’t care if it’s Imperial credits or Old Republic scrip or gold-press latinum or Jawa skulls. Okay, I might care if it’s Jawa skulls because WTF Kenobi why do you have two thousand of these laying around?! What the hell have you been up to out in your little desert hut?

Anyway… no, all we need to know is that two thousand is a good amount (judging off everyone’s reactions) and fifteen more makes it a very good amount. Past that, we just don’t need to know why Solo wants all these Jawa skulls Kenobi’s collected. It’s not important. The dialogue’s solid and sounds believable, which is far more important that a brief segue to explain the various types of Galactic currency and their exchange rates.

This brings me to my third and final point.

Worldbuilding is, in my opinion, a really easy trap to fall into. Because worldbuilding is fun. Seriously. That question game we played up above? We can do that for weeks with worldbuilding. Months. Maybe even years. My world is going to be so huge and so complex with so many races and creeds and economies and social structures and seriously we can spend so much time doing this instead of…

Y’know, actually writing the story.

And that’s how I generally approach worldbuilding. You may need to change this approach a bit, depending on your own story and the kid of setting you want for it, but hopefully this’ll get you a little further down that path. Or help you find your own path.

Next time… endings.


Until then, go write.

July 11, 2019 / 2 Comments

In A World… Where…

Yeah, there was no post last week.  Holidays, finished editing, all that. I know I promised you a post about computers, but when I re-read it felt rough.  I toss around some touchy topics in it, so rather than risk saying something that could get easily misinterpreted. and set off a bunch of people yelling… I just figured I’d let it sit for now. Maybe I’ll get to it some other time, or bring it up at one of the many Coffeehouses in the future.

But I gave you two this week to make up for it. Okay, so one of them was the updated FAQ, but it’s still an informative post.  Just maybe not the information you were hoping for.

So, one thing I’ve mentioned here once or thrice is the idea of believability. On some level, we need to accept this character or world as real, because that’s how their stories become real to us.  If a character or a world asks us to accept too much… well, we just can’t.  One too many coincidences or secret cults or hidden talents and… we’re out.  That willing suspension of disbelief gets shattered.

Of course, what’s “believable” is kind of tricky, isn’t it? I mean, we completely accept  a tavern with fifty different alien races in it when we’re watching a Star Wars movie.  But if I’m reading the latest addition to the Their Bright Ascendancy trilogy, well… that doesn’t work quite as well. And if this was an episode of Elementaryor even iZombie we’d just roll our eyes and talk about the days back when this was a good show.

(they’re both great shows, just to be clear—but not if they suddenly had alien bars in them)

When we start to get invested in a story, part of it is that we get a good feel for what kind of world this story is set in.  Does magic exist?  Or aliens?  Does everyone know about vampires or are they still living quietly in the shadows, unknown to the average person? Assuming they’re even real.

A big problem I stumble across on a semi-regular basis is when a writer tries to change the world too late in the story.  We’ve been reading about a story set in the real world and suddenly there are goblins and vampires.  Or it turns out we’ve all known about aliens since the ‘50s.  I mean, we teach about them in school.  In history class!

I was reading a book lately that was set in Victorian London (locations, names, and/or supernatural beings may have been changed to protect the relatively innocent). A take on “the great detective” trope, but it was fun and had a nice mystery aspect to it (hunting a Jack the Ripper-esque serial killer) and the dialogue and descriptions of London were just fantastic.  I was really enjoying it.  Until…

A little more than halfway through the book, maybe close to 60 or 70% in, we find out that the serial killer is actually the Frankenstein Monster, gathering parts for yet another attempt at electro-alchemically creating a mate for himself.  It just came out of nowhere  Not so much a twist (it wasn’t really set up) as a weird reveal.  And it kind of… well, it knocked me out of the story.  It was a cool idea, but suddenly this was a very different world than I’d been led to believe. The type of characters who could be in it had drastically shifted. I had to reconsider a lot of things, and one of the biggest was “does this story still make sense?  Is this world still believable?”

Needless to say, I had to readjust my expectations as far as where this story sat on the plausibility/believability scale.  Which meant I then had to go back and reconsider everything that had already happened.  Were all those earlier moment still believable, now that I knew they were happening in this world?

And this isn’t to mean I came to a dead stop and started checking things off in a plus or minus column. It was just one of those moments where an instinctive reaction forces everything up into my brain.  I stopped enjoying and started analyzing. I was much more in my head for the rest of the story.

It’s kinda like wandering through a pool on a hot day. You may be really enjoying the cool water, the feeling of being outside, being with friends, all of it.  It might feel fantastic. But then you hit a spot of water that’s just a little warmer—just that certain amountwarmer—and now that one small-but-significant change has made you very aware of the pool.  Who else is in the pool. Where are they?  Where were they?  Now you’re not so sure if the pool’s a great place anymore. Sure, it may be nothing, but it’s kinda in your head now, how much water is on your skin.

And that’s a small change.  Imagine if you bumped up against a dead rat in the pool.  Or a shark. How the hell is there a shark in the pool?  Was it there all long?  Was it invited to this party, too? Is it responsible for the warm spot?

We need to feel comfortable in the world of the story.  I don’t want my readers to feel confused or betrayed. Bruce Joel Rubin made a wonderful observation years back that we experience stories in our gut, but we analyze them in our head.  So the moment we go into our head, trying to figure out what’s up with that warm spot, we start to lose our readers.

If I had to put a loose rule to it, I think any serious world-change like this has to be the end of act one/start of act two moment.  It’s part of the easing-in process.  The Matrix.  Red Rising. Harry Potter.  In all of these stories, the discovery that the world was than what we’d first been led to believe comes fairly early.  It’s probably notable that it’s also what gets all these stories really going.  This discovery is, arguably, the inciting incident, as folks have been known to call it.

Now, this moment can come later, sure.  I’m betting everybody reading this knows at least three or four “We were on Earth all along” stories.  But when these stories work—and that’s kind of a rare thing if you think about it—it’s because this is a very carefully set up twist.  And like any good twist, it’s been set up so the big reveal makes things fall perfectly into place rather than scatter across the table and spill onto the floor.

I’d also add that just because we’re flexing that suspension of disbelief with one thing doesn’t mean another thing will slide off with no problem. Finding out the serial killer we’re chasing is Frankenstein doesn’t mean we’ll also accept that he leads a taskforce of steampunk cyborgs that protect the earth from alien invaders.  Just because there are vampires doesn’t mean I’ll buy that Abraham Lincoln really was a vampire hunter sanctioned by the Vatican.

So if halfway through my story I’m introducing an element that’s going to change how readers look at my world, I should take a good, long look at it.  How big of a change is it?  Is it very late in the story?  Is it coming out of nowhere?

Is it necessary?
Oh and hey, speaking of the Writers Coffeehouse (as I did way up above), there’s one this Sunday, noon to three, at the new Dark Delicacies in Burbank. There’s also going to be one at San Diego Comic-Con, one week from today, from 2:30 to 4:30, and that one’s going to have me, Jonathan Maberry, Delilah Dawson, Scott Sigler. and maybe some other folks, too.  Come hang out with us and talk about writing. Plus I’m also doing the dystopian book club at the Last Bookstore this Sunday, too.

Next time… well, next time is Comic-Con, like I said. I probably won’t have a post up next week, but I may have a few fun cartoons and such if you want to check back in.  And then maybe the week after that I’ll blab about cool camera shots.

Until then… go write.