Ramblings (pl. noun): talking or writing in a confused way, often for a long time
Bardlings (pl. noun): Ramblings from Bard

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Thinking Things Through
by Michael W. Bard
©2001 Michael W. Bard -- all rights reserved

One thing I often find in stories, and elsewhere, are situations where the author or creator has not thought through the meaning of an event, or a minor background note, mentioned in a story -- especially as regards its greater ramifications. What do I mean, you ask? Well, first a simple example:

In Star Trek (™, ®, ©, etc) they have the Transporter. Originally this was created because they couldn't afford to show a shuttle landing every episode. Later, it was used to reverse aging, cure weird diseases, split and merge people, travel to alternate realities, and create fully functioning duplicates of a person. And what has this done to the Star Trek universe? Nothing at all! Think about it though. With a Transporter, everybody is now immortal. You can create as many duplicates as required (and even duplicate a soul if you believe in that, unless you think the duplicated Riker was a soulless monster). Logically, if you can change a person's age, you could also change their appearance. Free transformation as required, when required. And what effect has this had on Star Trek society? None whatsoever! There is still only one Data, people still die of old age, etc. This is a greater ramification that was not thought through.

Now, what does this all mean to you as a writer, or even as a reader? It's simple, really. When writing a story (don't worry, I'll get to you readers in a bit), sit back and think about what you've written means. If your victim was transformed by a drug, what other uses could that drug be put to? If by magic, then how common is that magic? What other effects could it have? And try to think of unusual uses. Not only will these surprise and entertain the reader, but your careful attention to detail will enhance your background and the suspension of disbelief required by the reader to fully immerse him/herself in what you have written. It may even give you additional thoughts and story ideas.

How you ask? Time for another example: Take the Winds of Change setting created by Jon Sleeper. According to his premise, three parallel universes merged into a single universe with new basic properties. Humanity only survived because of a plague released at the end of the Second World War (or the Plague War in the stories). This yields an interesting ramification that nobody has touched as far as I know: It means that there is no intelligent biological life anywhere in the universe other than humanity. Fine, it is possible that some other race had the same kind of plague, but think about the odds against that. Total Silence. Of course, this means that any machine-based societies, or machine remnants of a biological society, are still around; they might be looking to find out who killed their creators; and since the only biological intelligence left is man... hmmmm. Lots of neat story ideas here!

But what does this mean when you're reading a story (told you I'd get to you readers)? Simple. If you see something that the author missed, then you can either write about it, or mention it to the writer and get more fiction that you can read and be entertained by. And, if the author does catch something that is completely logical, yet you the reader never thought of, then I, at least, find the story even better. I slap my forehead, flick my tail, and say "Neat!"

Not done yet...

One more thought before you go out and start working out all kinds of weird things, trying to be clever. Try to do things that fit logically, yet are unexpected. An author, Orson Scott Card, in a book on characterization (Characters and Viewpoint; Writers Digest Books, 1988), described how he ran sessions he called "A Thousand Ideas". In these, he would pose a plot idea (boy transforms into centaur -- what can I say, I'm biased) and then start asking the group questions. Why did the boy transform? By a potion. What does the potion look like? How did it taste? Does it have any other effects? Etc. On page 22, Card describes one time he was asking a group about a Prince whose sexual abstinence controlled the magic that sustained his country. Everybody in the group was suggesting ways about how he would try to get around restrictions -- everybody but one. Gene Wolfe (a wonderful author) was also in the group, and he stated, "No, no, you don't understand. This young man thinks they don't restrict him enough. He's absolutely terrified that he'll accidentally slip into some form of sexual release and cause some dire consequence to his people." Or words to that effect, anyway. Think about that. It makes perfect sense, given the situation. Yet it is so unexpected, it sticks in our minds as a Neat Idea™.

Whenever I read an idea like this hidden in the background of the story, I smile, and start looking for more by that author.

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