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Does this need explaining?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by jacksimmons, Apr 24, 2020.

  1. jacksimmons

    jacksimmons Scribe

    Little bit of advice needed guys.

    I am writing a dark fantasy space opera heavily inspired by the old sword & planet aesthetic, like He-Man etc. which combines swords and sorcery with lasers and aliens and space warfare. In my world the characters use swords and wear armour similar to a medieval setting, but there's robots and huge spaceships and more modern weaponry, too.

    My question is, does this need to be explained? I know in early space operas and sword and planet serials it was rarely explained and just passed off as an aesthetic choice, but as this is written in a more adult way (there's politics, gore, sex, swearing etc.) it seems like maybe the reader may feel they are owed an explanation.

    What do you think? Is it fine for this to be left as is, and for the reader to suspend disbelief while they are in the world, or does it need explaining? Even if it is never explained in the story (the exposition would be clunky and unnecessary imo), do I need an explanation for it?

    Thanks in advance for any answers.
    CelestialGrace likes this.
  2. Penpilot

    Penpilot Staff Article Team

    IMHO, generally, no. You don't have to explain it unless that explanation plays a role in understanding the plot. If you have a good explanation, you could drip it into the world building, but don't go out of your way or do some mental gymnastics in order to give some explanation. An obvious BS explanation is still BS and is IMHO worse than no explanation at all, because that BS explanation draws attention to the fact that something doesn't exactly jive.

    If you clearly indicate at the beginning exactly what type of story it is and leave it up to the reader to suspend disbelief or not, then for the most part you're fine.

    For example, in lots of stories you have heroes dodging lasers. Lasers are beams of light. Nobody moving fast enough to dodge or even deflect anything that travels at the speed of light. But does anyone really question or care? Not really, because it's cool.
  3. Kasper Hviid

    Kasper Hviid Sage

    As I see it, you're pushing the suspension of disbelief way too far if you're trying to explain it.

    without explaining:
    You: "Here's an army of cyborgs armed with chainsaw scythes"
    The reader: "Cool, what happens next?"

    with explaining:
    You: "Here's an army of cyborgs armed with chainsaw scythes, and you must understand that this is perfectly realistic, because (...)"
    The reader: "Hey, waitaminute..."
    CelestialGrace and jacksimmons like this.
  4. enoch driscoll

    enoch driscoll Scribe

    Its really absurd that the jedi use something as un-useful as a light saber, yet they make millions with every movie.
    Night Gardener and jacksimmons like this.
  5. Night Gardener

    Night Gardener Inkling

    I wouldn't outright explain it. However, you can drop hints and let readers make their own deductions and draw conclusions.

    Why wear full plate and mail armor? The planet has wild animals that would kill you without it. People still like to stab with daggers and switchblades during robberies and raids.

    How would you imply this, or drop hints? Maybe have a vendor that resales used armor components, and have a character pick up a heavy guage neck piece and go "Whoaaa! Can you imagine the size of the [endemic creature] that was able to leave a dent in that?! Wonder what the helmet looks like?"

    Add something like an energy shield retro-fit attachment to a suit of armor made with a high tech alloy, and now you can protect yourself from stabs, arrows, animal attacks, small caliber bullets and laser blasters. It's basically a lo-tech mechasuit without computers or hydraulics.

    Why carry swords? Yes, weaponzied lasers are available, but they're: expensive to reload after so many rounds of fire/ need to be recharged if portable, cumbersome to operate one-handed, too large to carry around easily, might be unreliable, etc.

    A few gripes about the increasing costs or scarcity of fuel cartridges, or how cartridges aren't standardized enough, jammed up guns, heavy weapons, etc. would be able to paint a logical reason why you'd always want a sword available. Even regular guns can run out of bullets.

    You can salt and pepper details like this throughout the work, and it isn't an info-dumping overt explanation. Just write your space opera story without apologizing for it with constant justifications as to why it is what it is.
    jacksimmons likes this.
  6. jacksimmons

    jacksimmons Scribe

    Love this.

    Thanks for the advice guys. I'd say it was unanimous. And to be honest this was the way I was leaning. I'm just gonna write what I want to write and if people think it's cool, cool.
  7. I disagree with the others here. I think you should explain it. I know Dune explains it for instance. If I would read a story where someone with a sword is fighting someone with a laser gun and a robot I would want to know why.
    Star Wars gets away with it because they are magical swords (kind of). If that's the case here, that's fine. But that should be obvious to the reader.
    Night Gardener likes this.
  8. JD Sheridan

    JD Sheridan Dreamer

    You shouldn't need to explain it, however, if you have reasons for the tech differences in areas while worldbuilding, these end up finding their way into your writing anyhow.

    For instance, why would a civilization that is space faring use projectile/energy weapons on their space craft but choose to use melee weapons in hand to hand combat? In their culture doing so lacks honor. A coward kills a man from the distance, while an honorable warrior looks their foe in the eye.

    With plans like this prior to writing, the way you describe an interaction will change and it becomes less about explaining and more showing why things are the way they are. Just do what you feel is right for your story man.
    Night Gardener likes this.
  9. The Dark One

    The Dark One Archmage

    Star Wars doesn't bother explaining it, so why should you?

    I've always wondered what was the point of storm trooper armour when it doesn't stop a laser - the most used weapon in the movies.
  10. TheKillerBs

    TheKillerBs Inkling

    It does though... not perfectly, but it turns a killing blast into a survivable one. It also protects from hazardous environmental conditions, up to and including the vacuum of space (for a short while, anyhow)
    Night Gardener likes this.
  11. The Dark One

    The Dark One Archmage

    That's never explained in the movies though. Certainly not in the first three (which are the only ones that count).
  12. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

    Also~ storm trooper armor doesn't protect against poison gas, as they talk about in Episode VII. Which knowledge should have only changed the battle tactics of the entire war.
  13. Miles Lacey

    Miles Lacey Inkling

    Armour, swords and high tech laser weapons aren't as contradictory as you might think. Any high tech laser weapon is going to have five problems: (a) they give away a person''s position, thus making them a target, (b) they need recharging which can be difficult if the laser weapons need specialised charging equipment or there''s nowhere to plug them in, (c) over time their battery packs lose the ability to charge efficiently so the weapons can't be charged to their full capacity after a few years, (d) they're expensive to buy, operate and maintain and (e) people learn very quickly what the weaknesses of such weapons are and exploit them.

    Existing weapons like assault weapons also have their problems such as jamming, parts breaking, water getting into sensitive parts, discharging if improperly maintained or mishandled etc.

    Suits of armour, swords, etc might seem to be odd but they would be very good things to have in close quarters fighting where a laser weapon would run out of power too quickly, be cumbersome to use or the risk of accidentally killing someone on your own side was too great.
    Last edited: Apr 29, 2020
    A. E. Lowan likes this.
  14. The Dark One

    The Dark One Archmage

    Run out of power too quickly?

    Maybe your laser. I got mine from Bunnings and it's good for a couple of hours...unless I forget to charge it.
  15. Star Wars does actually explain the existence of Lightsabers. There's a whole scene devoted to it:
    Note: the scene isn't telling the reader "we have light sabers because Jedi can do whatever with them." It shows Luke training with it and what sort of thing it lets you do. You can block or deflect laser blasts for instance. And every time they use a lightsaber in a fight, they explain their existence. For a Jedi it's a superior weapon, since with the aid of the force they can stop a blast from a gun which makes ranged attacks against a Jedi less useful and in close combat it's a superior weapon.

    When I said you need to explain the existence of the weapons, I didn't mean you need to devote a chapter to it where you sit the reader down and tell him everything about the technology levels and why things are the way they are (though Dune actually does do it this way, in a sword fighting lesson scene if I recall correctly). What I meant was that through the story you need to show the reader why things are the way they are. Why walk around in expensive, cumbersome armour that needs a lot of maintenance if it is easily defeated by a simple gun-shot? Why wear a sword and try to use it if you just get bombed out of existence by a spaceship or shot from a long distance?
  16. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Moderator

    Resist the Urge to Explain.
    A. E. Lowan likes this.

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