Many kinds of genre fiction incorporate elements far beyond our normal, everyday reality. Whether it’s advanced technology, magic spells, psionic powers, or superhuman powers, extranormal abilities are a constant in many kinds of fiction. While essential to those genres, these elements can present numerous challenges for a writer. However, there is a way to cut off many of these potential problems before they can even take root: establishing the ground rules at the start.
It’s certainly tempting to leave these sorts of things open-ended. After all, it may seem like it leaves you, the author, with a convenient back-up to unforeseen plot holes. Paint your characters into the back of a valley with an army of monsters bearing down on them? No worries, you don’t need to rethink the scene. Magic can save them! Or the special super-tech device, or the hero’s new super power or … or … well, I’m sure you can see where this is going. It basically can lead to a series of ever-increasingly annoying deus ex machina that will alienate your readers.
The obvious way to avoid that is to bound yourself in, to establish ground rules to how these extranormal or super-futuristic systems work. Even if you never reveal these rules to the readers, keeping those rules in mind will add a sense of order and internal consistency to your tale. In addition, seeing and knowing that these systems are limited will add to the building of dramatic tension, as your readers will know that your protagonists don’t have an unlimited ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card in their back pockets.
There’s one potential trip-up to establishing a set of rules for your extranormal systems and that’s when you want to break them. Yes, it’s true that every rule is meant to be broken. Well, at least some people say so! I would say that it’s perfectly fine to break your world’s rules once in a while. There are always loopholes, there are always unknown exceptions, and no one knows everything about everything, right? So it is fine to break your world’s rules from time to time. The problem comes when you do so on a regular basis. Some authors have a habit of doing this and, again, it breaks your readers’ suspension of disbelief or even feel any dramatic tension. If the rules aren’t rules, why should the readers care or pay attention to them? If the rules may not constrain the heroes’ abilities, why should the readers worry about their survival when they could unleash an unknown new power to save their collective rears?
So, to sum up: genre fiction means cool supernatural stuff which needs rules, dude! You can break rules, but only once in a while or else it’s a bummer. *mic drop*
Until next time, friends, good reading, good writing, and good luck!
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