Adding the Familiar

If it’s one thing Spec Fic writers know how to do, it’s research. Half the time I believe many could CLEP out of most of the courses in colleges throughout the country with the amount of science, history, mythology, and psychology we study, cross check references, and verify.

We find the tiny details to use in our storytelling, to twist, turn, reverse, and basically create something new out of the old.

Over the past few months, I’ve seen an issue becoming more than just a once in hundred manuscripts. The authors used unfamiliar foundations for their stories. And it can throw a reader completely out of the world they created.

Yes, there are always exceptions. And sometimes you have use them.

The myth red cars receive more tickets than any other color. I lost the link to the police officer, and mathematician, who stated that it would require every red car to receive twelve tickets per day for that to be true. He poured through statistics, used a program to compile every ticket given in the US for a five year period, color of the car, etc. His findings? White is the most ticketed color of any make, model or year. Statistically it makes sense – white is the most common color. But you can’t tell that to the world in general, they will argue that their cousin’s best friend’s sister owned a red BMW and was ticketed so often she lost her license. Never mind she drove 90 in a 65 every day to work.

What I’m driving at is the need to use the familiar. I used a unicorn in a recent MS. Granted it talked, was the size of a Great Dane, released flatulence in the form of rainbows and its horse apples turned out to be pure gold. Oh, he’s a carnivore. But I also kept to the familiar – white coat, cloven hooves, dainty, blue eyes, a sparse mane and tail.

Familiar landscapes, weapons, and creatures easily imagined. Then the author veers off the familiar and uses little known theories of science, and tosses the reader on their keister, wondering what happened.

Science is moving forward at a breakneck pace. At times it can be very hard to keep up. Now imagine how it is for the general population. Granted, most hard SF readers know as much about the latest scientific developments as the scientists who discover them. But in general, most know only what is published through various news sites, science shows, books, etc. They don’t know about the latest developments of the Higgs-Boson theory, the many different string theories, heavy gravity and how it relates to string theory, the new body parts recently discovered, the cures for cancer that are currently in testing, recent discoveries in the world of veterinary medicine, the DNA found in several fossilized animals and how they believe it can be cloned, or how dragons became so popular with various unrelated cultures throughout the world.

Now to circle back. I had three hard SF books cross my desk in the past month. The premises were great, the writing outstanding, and they weren’t rewrites of Star Trek/Wars. Of the three, two used unfamiliar foundation for their science. It required two hours of intensive research to check their facts. What? It’s part of my job. But the point is, what they used was so unfamiliar, not even published yet, and tossed me out of their work – because it was unbelievable. I had to call my cousin in Kuaui, an astrophysicist, and verify what I found. The author had the foundation information correct. Although it surprised my cousin the author found the ongoing research.

This isn’t the 60’s and Gene Roddenberry’s world any longer. Our readers are savvier, more up to date on scientific developments in general, less likely to believe, and harder to keep inside the worlds/realities we create. Our biggest hurdle is convincing them that yes, an intergalactic war will happen, or in an alternate universe, people still fight with swords, or that unicorns can show up during Mardi Gras and change your entire outlook on life.

Giving them a little bit of the familiar helps to suspend their belief and reading to the very last page.