Hey there everybuddy! Welcome back to Aunt Scripty’s
Emporium of Mayhem and Ketamine. Today I want to talk about something that’s
near and dear to my heart, but that maybe I’ve never quite properly explained
I want to talk about Aunt
Scripty’s Rule of Reality. Because I think it feels sometimes like I’m
blowing people off when I use it, and that’s not the case at all. I want to
help each and every one of you.
For those of you who saw the title of this post and
immediately thought of that lovable scamp Stethy, here she is….
But to understand this in context, we need to talk about
something important: the covenant you make with your readers when you sit down
Covenant? What Covenant?
Fine, let’s call it something else. A pact. A contract. An
agreement. You promise your readers, “This is what I’m giving you. This is what
you’ll get.” And if you don’t deliver, you run the risk of losing the reader’s
trust – and trust, in the writing game, is everything.
There are a lot of elements to the reader/writer contract.
Many have to do with genre, with plot, with story structure. Something that
starts out with a fast-packed action scene with guns and car chases should not
divert immediately into a Victorian love triangle.
You broke the contract. You promised one genre, you
But this is a blog about writing medical events, and I’m
going to talk about the one rule you need to be very careful never to violate,
the one promise you must always uphold:
This world works the same way, every time.
Now that’s kind of a strange contract, right? Especially in
sci-fi and fantasy worlds, we expect
them to work differently from our own.
But what I’m talking about here is an internal consistency. If you build a world in which, say, people
can be healed from mortal wounds with the application of the Sacred Herbs of
Bottanicus, Lord God of Plant Matter, then that set of healing herbs has to
work every time.
Alternatively, if you establish a world like ours in which
those herbs don’t work, and you come
along and all of a sudden they do, with
no explanation, you’ve broken the contract.
There’s a difference between bending that contract and breaking
that contract, but it’s important to understand that you make readers certain
promises in your writing. And the closer you set your story to a 21st-Century
Earth, the closer you need to get to the way 21st-Century Earth actually works.
But just to be clear: you can write a story about sentient jelly beings
that slurp their way across the surface of Mars, and your readers will
believe you, as long as the rules of how that story works remain consistent.
How to Alter The Contract
change, especially if it gets your MC out of a jam. If you expect your main
character to be saved by put in a tank of healing bubble-water, establish healing bubble-water first,
preferably early in the story when nobody notices. Throwaway lines work very
well for this.
Make your change make
sense in context. Establish the technology level that will get your
character’s society to that point.
You don’t have to explain the way the healing bubbles work –
look at Star Wars – but you do have
to establish that it’s something that your character’s society could have
developed. If you have a society of Tolkienesque elves who live in the forest
and hunt with bows, they should not have healing
I Can’t See Your Contract
From my perspective, when I get asks that talk about science
fiction – mutants or aliens or healing magic – I often reply with the Rule of
Reality in mind.
It’s not because I don’t like sci-fi or fantasy – I absolutely love them. But my usefulness
as a resource becomes more and more limited the further away from 21st-Century
Earth you get. And while human physiology doesn’t change, the way that physiology interacts with “medical intervention” does.
And when it comes down to it, I barely have time to read
anything for pleasure, much less reading individual stories to help build the
medical aspect of their worlds.
I don’t know what’s believable in your world because I’m not
in it. I don’t breathe it, or understand it. I don’t know the rules – stated or
implied – that you’ve established.
And without knowing the rules, I don’t know which ones I’m
You Break It, You Bought It
This isn’t meant to be a deflection. It’s meant to give you
If you’ve decided that your story includes aliens and ghosts
and seeing Bigfoot in your garage, you have
the power to decide how that world looks. It’s a lot of responsibility –
trust me, I’m writing a modern fantasy novel that crosses 21st-Century-Earth
with a society that bans the use of iron or steel, it’s really complicated.
But you also get to decide how that world looks and feels
and smells and tastes. You’re no longer bound by what we in this day and age
can and cannot do. The shackles of reality have been broken – to a point. You’re free to establish
your own rules.
But once you’ve established them, stick to them.
xoxo, Aunt Scripty