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THE PHYSICS OF YOUR WORLD

February 20, 2019

Okay, as part of my world-building series, I cannot leave out the uh…rather uncomfortable one, at least for some of us. That’s the physical world. First, I have to give you a little bit of background.

I’ve been into astronomy, or rather telescopes, telescope making and looking “up” for over fifty years. I’ve had at one time, a deep fascination with the mystery and the wonder of outer space and what might be going on above our breathable air.

Telescopes was the only way I could reach out and touch that outer everything physically, by reaching out to the time machines of photons travelling toward earth, and seeing them in an eyepiece. Why did some of that stuff happen and what formed it? At first I wanted to know until I actually got into the science part of it. Then what I discovered about real astronomy, the stuff you think you know about the subject, was just a glorified math class in high school or college. It involved not only (to me) incomprehensible math, but the very subject of our article today, physics.

I can tell you, if I didn’t have such a deep passion for the mechanics of telescopes and the visual beauty of just “looking up,” all that math and physics would’ve just sucked the life right out of my interest in “astrominny.”

To this day, I don’t really prefer to be called an amateur astronomer. I like to think of myself as a visual observer who happens to use a telescope. However, for simplicity’s sake, and so as not to pick at straws, I just leave it as an amateur astronomer. Why complicate things?

It all boils down to physics. The physics of astronomy in that case. However, the physics of your world is something that doesn’t have to be bogged down in math.

REAL-WORLD FICTION

In real-world fiction, your physical world is already built for you. The rules are already there. All you have to do is follow them. That means your research should be focused on getting the weather right, making sure you know your guns, using any astronomical phenomena correctly, any other physical things that any normal person would know.

Pretty simple.

SCIENCE FICTION

With science fiction, when you actually build a world, by the confines of the genre, you have to comply with certain scientific theories. In other words, you can’t just break every rule of physics without completely losing credibility. You have to be a lot more careful when you do something that’s scientifically impossible. Now, if it’s something that’s theoretically possible but hasn’t been proven true yet, that’s one thing. When it’s something that’s been theoretically thought of as false, but someone is still trying to make it work, go ahead and stretch.

However, when you go so far as to do something that has been clearly proven impossible, or something that nobody has ever thought of and is clearly not possible, think hard before you use it. You may still be able to get away with it, but at the same time, your book may be ridiculed, or it may be re-categorized as fantasy. If so, it might not be accepted in that genre because it really isn’t. Things to consider.

FANTASY

Fantasy is where your physical world is what you make it. This is the one case where you make up your own rules. If it always rains up instead of down, if salt is hot and pepper is salty, if water isn’t wet, those are your physical rules. You’re free to do just about anything you want, even if it doesn’t make physical sense in reality.

However…

It HAS to make sense within your world. It cannot just be nonsense. It cannot be there just for shock value, or “color” to jar the reader. It has to have a reason.

The key is that whatever super-fantastic physical rules you make up for your world, you need to stick with them and make sure that physical these effects parlay into other effects that correspond.

If water travels uphill, make sure you have lakes on the top of mountains, not in the valleys.

RESEARCH

One of the fun things about creating a world is that you may or may not research. Some love the idea of research, while others loathe it.

If you want to throw some realism into your fantasy world, such as when it comes to medieval weapons, research real sword and axe and halberd fighting through an Age Of Chivalry group. If you want it to rain acid, maybe reach out to a volcanologist.

When it comes to real-world or science fiction writing, you have to research or keep the details so vague as to not get yourself in trouble. It’s almost inevitable you’ll have to do some.

SUMMARY

World building can be a fun experience. Whether you map it all out, or like me, do it on the fly, there’s a sense of accomplishment knowing you created something unique and all your own.

Happy writing!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. John Pierce permalink
    February 28, 2019 3:43 am

    Interesting. One point that jumped out at me is about staying within reason with the physical rules of your fiction world. A key example for me was the first Superman movie. Superman turning time back by causing the earth to rotate backward , ruined the movie for me. Up to that point it was “believable.” So much so that I avoided all the later Superman movies.

    • March 1, 2019 2:37 am

      Hah! Funny how you mention unbelievable things in movies. I never watch anything on TV or film for believability! It kind of goes with the territory there. I have another article about research and why books are held to a higher standard that deals directly with this subject. Movies? I hold no credibility at all with them! Thanks for the words John!

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