famous Canadian Science Fiction novelist
Mark A. Carter discusses the importance of maintaining
the fiction bubble, being
a good liar, Probable Impossibilities,
psychologically manipulating the reader, the all important
willing suspension of disbelief,
and writing about what you know.
More than being
a good storyteller, the good writer must first be a good liar.
Yes, I said liar. The concept of Impossible
Probabilities and Probable
Impossibilities all comes down to an admixture of
truth and lies and lies and truth that a good writer
must use to manipulate the reader.
Read: Aristotle. Poetics. Translated with an introduction
and notes by M. Heath. London: Penguin, 1996.
It is the responsibility
of the writer to inform the reader with facts that are obvious,
things that the reader knows and acknowledges as truth, and thereby
set up a level of trust. Then gradually, painstakingly, the writer
may be able to interject a tidbit
of untruth here and there to advance characterization
and/or plot but ultimately to manipulate the reader.
walks a tightrope between what is believable and what is unbelievable.
Read: Todorov, Tzvetan. The Fantastic:
A Structural Approach to a Literary Genre. Translated by
Richard Howard. Cleveland: Case Western Reserve University Press,
1973. If this manipulation is done well, the
reasonable or willing suspension of disbelief
holds, and the writer can take the reader anywhere. But if you
push too far, if your facts are inaccurate, if your fiction is
too far-fetched and the reader hesitates, all is lost. The
fiction bubble pops. The
willing suspension of disbelief collapses. Books
get thrown across rooms. Readers are angered by the waste of
time they have invested in your book. And nowadays, readers get
even. They get on the horn
and blog about your crappy
novel. And all is lost on several different levels.
Oh my ...
So, what is a
writer to do to maximize his believability?
You do research. You research everything. Do your homework.
Become a mini-expert on the topic at hand. If you want to write
about a sun going nova, learn about what happens to make a sun
explode. Then use your creative skills to turn the physics of
the phenomenon into a literary description. As I have stated
in other essays, use photographs to enhance your description
even further. But get your facts right. It makes the writing
better. It makes it richer. And in the long run it makes it easier
to write. It puts the flesh on the
bone. It engenders the writing with authenticity. And
the reader will believe.
and rude people sometimes refer to this phenomenon as
baffling with bullshit. That
is perhaps what they do in their daily lives. It's what lousy
sales people do every day. I have also encountered it in the
lower rungs of education, secondary school principals usually,
who are political animals first, and human beings last. You know
who you are. But that term diminishes what a writer must do to
become a mini-expert and hold the attention of a reader with
My eye surgeon,
a doctor whom I respect very much for his expertise asked me
why I design and build laser power supplies in my spare time.
He couldn't fathom why I did it. He couldn't see the purpose
of doing it if it didn't make money. But then again, doctors
make money in a different way or on a different time scale than
writers. We do not submit claims to the government for services
rendered and get paid for our time. If we did, we would own the
planet. I would even be putting in claims for my diurnal and
nocturnal dreaming time. Personally, I chalk up my circuit endeavors
to research. Before my marooned Steampunk
hero builds an electronic circuit, by hand, to replace
the printed circuit technology in his time travel device that
has fried in the story, I want to know that it can be done. So,
I build what I plan to write about. You have heard it before,
but it warrants mentioning once again: Write about what you know.
Why? The astute reader can smell a rat. If your description is
too general or just wrong, the fiction
bubble will pop. Your book will be burned or thrown
or used to balance a table leg. And kiss your career good-bye,
and rightfully so, because you haven't done your research.
fiction bubble pops or the
willing suspension of disbelief collapses when
the reader knows more about a subject than you do. But if you
do your homework, even the most astute physics professor will
become a fan of your fiction. To guarantee fans in the academic
community and elsewhere, never feel embarrassed to contact a
trained professional and ask him to read your writing to ensure
that what you have written is bone fide in their field. Many
scientists are Science Fiction
fans in their own right. In fact, it is
Science Fiction that made them want to become scientists.
After all, art imitates life and life
imitates art. And so it goes.
Before you commit
thoughts to paper, imagine them. See the setting. Be the characters.
See the details. Walk around in the scene. Hear and say the dialogue.
If the magic works, and the more adept at this exercise you get
the more it does, you will find yourself transported. You will
discover yourself utterly lost in the
fiction bubble of your own creation. And these
are truly magical moments. Then, some noise, some uninvited distraction
from the real world will inevitably intrude upon your creative
waking dream, and the fiction bubble
will pop. So, while the memory is fresh, by all means,
write down what you have worked out. It may be some of your best
If and when you
write something that is close to the edge, close to the verge
of popping that magical fiction
bubble in the reader's mind, have one of your characters
address the issue themselves. Have them doubt what your hero
is doing or saying. Have them ask the same question that is forming
in the mind of your reader. The technique diffuses the reader's
doubt. By your character asking the same question, you further
involve the reader in your writing. And dare I say it, it is
usually the point where lie exceeds
truth in your story. It happens when you have manipulated
the reader utterly to your way of thinking. It's
swallow the blue pill or the red pill time, baby. And
if the reader chooses the red pill, you've got them.
You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed
and you believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red
pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole
Wachowski, Larry and Andy. The Matrix. Film. Warner Brothers,