You Won’t Understand A Word That’s In It But You’ll Write It All Again Before You Die

I’m going to rant here.

Fantastic literature is not the “easy setting”.

The particular spark that set me off today was an argument about The Last Jedi, but it’s an issue that has bothered me for a while now.

Fiction is, first and foremost, the art of telling a story. It is other things as well, just as music is more than arranging a sequence of tones. However, just as everything in a musical composition is conveyed by sound and everything in a painting is conveyed by pigment, everything in a work of fiction is conveyed by story.

I am going to say that again, louder.


Story is “what happens”. Characters are “those to whom the story happens”. Setting is “the place where the story happens.” Every single word in a work of fiction is part of the story.

If the story doesn’t work, the fiction doesn’t work. Period. A piece of music may have  beautiful notes, but if you play them all at once, the music is lost.

A story is a sequence of events that unfold in a reasonable progression.

I walk to my car. I drive to the store. I buy bread and cheese. I come home. I make a cheese sandwich. I eat my sandwich and I am happy. The end.

That’s a story. Probably not the most thrilling story you’ve ever read, granted, but it is a story. One event leads to the next.  The main character’s actions are logical–he’s hungry and so he takes steps to feed himself. Every step in the sequence proceeds from the prior step.

If the character returns from the store with bread and cheese and uses them to make a root beer float, the story fails because a rootbeer float is not made with bread and cheese.

If you substitute “rocket ship” for “car” and “space station” for “store”, he still has to use bread and cheese to make something that logically be made from bread and cheese.  Even if it’s atomo-cheese and space bread you can’t make a rootbeer float.

You don’t get a free pass to ignore logical necessity just because you set a story someplace other than Earth. You can invent new things and new rules to govern them.  You can erase things from existence.  These additions and subtractions complicate the process of storytelling because the audience has to be made aware that the universe within the story is not the same as the universe in which they live.

They do not, however, change the essential nature of a story as a sequence of events unfolding in a logical progression.

(As an aside, the events do not have to be told in the order in which they would have occured.

As I made my cheese sandwich I thought back over the chain of events that led to my possession of the necessary bread and cheese. I got them from the store–the store that I had reached by using my car. 

That’s the same story, just told differently.)

I wholeheartedly reject the idea that a story that is “just science fiction” (or “just fantasy” or “just horror”) should be held to a lower standard of logical consistency than realistic fiction. Stories that contain fantastic elements should be held to a higher standard, in fact. The audience is integrating the new elements into an existing worldview and both the new and old elements must be rigorously consistent.

Otherwise the audience will decide that there are no rules and anything can happen.  And if anything can happen, then it doesn’t matter what happens.

And your story is dead.

About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle.
This entry was posted in Artists That I Admire, New Wave, On Writing, Poetry and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to You Won’t Understand A Word That’s In It But You’ll Write It All Again Before You Die

  1. Pingback: You Won’t Understand A Word That’s In It But You’ll Write It All Again Before You Die | Fantasy Gift Sources: Book Reviews, Article Resources, News

  2. Mary says:

    You use the bread and cheese to bribe the brownie to give back the ingredients for the float.

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