Insight: Story Tech 101

Conveying a sense of time and place in a story is important because it helps to shape the story world in the mind of the reader. This is an important concept in any story, regardless of genre.

Let’s say you are writing a story set during the Industrial Revolution. You have a character, let’s call them Fred. Fred lives in your average industrial town during the period 1790-1840. I’ll use this period of time because it’s a great range to explore the topic.

Depending on where you have Fred live during this time, the technology would vary greatly. What does Fred do for a living? How does he get to work? Does he make his own clothes or are they from a tailor? What is his home made of? How does he have fun in his spare time? Does he have spare time? These are the kind of questions that you need to answer within your story. Remember to “show, not tell” because you don’t want to bog down your reader with too much information that will keep them from suspending their disbelief. We want the reader to become invested in the story, not have to dive for a dictionary or Google every five minutes because they come across a term they don’t understand.

Now, let’s flash forward (ain’t time travel grand?) to the future about a century or two, and reexamine our buddy Fred. How is his life different? The questions remain the same though the answers will vary.

One of my pet peeves is Technobabble. This is describing an item using convoluted technical jargon that sounds impressive, but serves little to no useful purpose. For example, you have a spaceship engineer working on a complex propulsion system. Having him use a Quantum Flux Spanner may sound impressive, but calling it a power-assisted adjustable or monkey wrench serves the story better because most everyone knows what a monkey wrench is. If you don’t, you can look it up and make notes. Otherwise, the hills may be alive with the sound of “What the Hell is that?” and you don’t want that.

I suppose that you could cheat a little and couch an explanation of a new piece of technology in dialog, such as having one character explain the workings to another, but even then you would need to put yourself in the position of having to explain something new to someone who isn’t familiar with it. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend it. Readers these days are very smart people and we don’t want to put them off by making them feel that they are being talked down to. Remember, they help pay our bills so we can continue to write for a living.

Anyway, that’s it for now. Ever Forward. 🙂