Brainstorming Series: Science & Technology

Developing the technology of your world

When you set out to write speculative fiction, many times you’ll be writing within a world very different from our own. Whether your story is set in ancient times or the far future, your people will still have a set understanding of science and, thus, a certain level of technology.

In order for your readers to feel oriented within your fictional world, it’s important for you to establish what kind of technology they can expect to find within your book. Any deviation from what is “normal” will need to be clarified and used consistently. If your world is mostly medieval but they’ve discovered radio communications, that needs to be made clear and it needs to make sense…otherwise the random radio in the middle of the stone, torch-lit castle will be very jarring.

Our understanding of science and therefore our implementation of technology evolved over time just like anything else. So as you’re creating awesome science-y gadgets for your sci-fi novel, remember that they need to be rooted sensibly within your society.

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Any tool is technology: General Questions

  • What were the first tools ancient societies discovered? How long ago was that?
  • What did those initial tools evolve into?
  • What tools or gadgets are the most crucial to your protagonist’s journey?
  • Which of these basic needs do these tools serve?
    • Protect
    • Destroy
    • Produce
  • What purpose do you need the tech to serve within the narrative?
  • What inventions did those tools or gadgets evolve from?
  • Does any key tool or gadget have other applications besides its primary use? How might that help or hinder your characters?
  • What needs were initially met with these new technologies?
  • How are weapons selected? How balanced is their practicality and their awesome-factor?
  • How is the advent of new technologies accepted by society?
  • How accepted is science over (or in conjunction with) religion or folklore?
  • How motivated are people to keep improving, discovering, and building?
  • How does access to technological tools vary between classes or castes? How much of a factor does wealth play into the availability of tech? How large of a discrepancy is there between the top and the bottom?
    • Top guys have smart phones, bottom guys have aluminum cans and yarn vs. Top guys have fancy smart phones, bottom guys have slightly less shiny smart phones
  • How much life does any given piece of equipment have? Are used weapons, tools, or gadgets resold after use? Do your characters do the reselling, or are the the purchasers of the used goods?
  • How long have things been as they are? Does technology develop rapidly, or has it been ages since things have changed?
  • If scientific advancement is stagnant, or even regressed, why is that? What has inhibited advancement for so long?
  • (Why doesn’t technology advance in fantasy settings?)
  • Are there elements of your world’s tech that seem highly advanced or behind given its general state? Why has that area advanced beyond or lagged behind others? Does that fit within the logistics of your world?
  • What technologies are currently considered state-of-the-art in your world?
  • Does it coexist peacefully with older or newer tools that accomplish the same thing? How have the older tools not died out yet? Are they on their way to extinction?
    • Horse-drawn carriages coexisted with automobiles for a short while, but eventually died out of standard use. So consider things like:
      • Why would someone use a bow and arrow when gunpowder has been discovered?
      • Why would one sail a boat when many boats now have engines?
      • Why use a flip-phone when smart phones are so readily accessible?
      • Why fly a blimp when you could fly a jet?
    • All your “alternative” tech decisions need a foundation grounded (if loosely) in sense. If they’re so arbitrary that they break your reader’s suspension of disbelief, then you have done yourself a huge disservice.
  • Most importantly: Does the weapon/tool/gadget make sense within the world? If not, you risk it becoming a deus-ex-machina tool.
  • Second most importantly: Don’t forget to keep track of what your tech can and can’t do. You don’t want to accidentally give your character an easy-out of a situation in which they need to be stuck for Plot reasons. Readers will notice.

Especially when writing science fiction, but in all speculative fiction, you need to balance the fantastic elements with your ability to make your world and tech credible. The more fantastic and bizarre your story, the more credible and solid your technology needs to be. How much actual science you delve into will depend on your style of storytelling, but you don’t have to fully explain quantum theory to include quantum computers and their abilities in your story.

Magic

  • How does magic or other supernatural forces interact with technology?
  • How has the presence of magic influenced the development of tech?
  • Is magic understood or studied on a scientific level?
  • Are magic and tech even distinguishable to most people?
  • Is magic or technology more widely used? Does this play into the hierarchy of society at all?

“-punk” genres

  • Know your -punks
  • Where in the timeline did this world’s primary technology deviate? (for example, generally steampunk deviated in the Victorian Era)
  • Why did that type of tech stick around and develop as it did?
  • How has the style evolved from conception to present day to meet people’s needs?

Other Resources

Generators

Because where would we be without them?

Happy writing, y’all!

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