What Are The Rules?

On one of the panels at YALC, talk turned to setting the rules of your fantasy world, rules that must not ever be broken.  I can't, off the top of my head, come up with a book that broke its own rules (probably because if I've ever read one, it annoyed me so badly I've blocked all recollection of it), but breaking the rules of your own fictional world is likely to upset a few readers.  It'd be like having a character in a straight contemporary novel solve the main problem of the story by suddenly and inexplicably learning to fly.

Rules are so important if you have any kind of future technology or magic system in your novel.  Like, say you're writing time travel. Whatever device you use, whether it be as close to reality as sci-fi will allow, or some kind of magic-based fantasy time travel, it's got to make sense in its own context.  For example, in the 2009 Star Trek film, time travel creates an entirely new universe, whereas in Back to the Future, the idea is Marty changes the past and travels back to his own, albeit altered, future. (I know this is disputed because what did happen to that second Marty the first Marty witnesses going back in time at the end of the film, but go with me here!) Stuff like time travel gets complicated quickly, so however you're going to write it, you've got to be very sure about how the system works. 

"88 miles per hour!!!!!!!"

Yes, fellow pantsers, even we need to know how every single rule of our fictional worlds.
How do you create and keep track of the rules of your fictional world? I highly recommend keeping a list in a very visible place at all times, so you can glance at it whenever you need to. Writing it down helps you to remember the little details, too.  Also, as strange as this might sound KEEP IT SIMPLE... or at least as simple as it can possibly be.  I don't mean skip out on writing the details, rather don't over complicate the rules to begin with. 

So, whatever world you've created and rules it requires, make sure you know them better than anyone else.

Comments

  1. One of the first parts of my planning process is getting all the rules of the fantasy world figured out! I've never tried to write time travel because it can get so complicated - though I do like a challenge!

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    1. I tried a time travel story and didn't get more than 5k into it before I realised my system wouldn't work.

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  2. Time travel is something I'd love to write about one day but I don't think I have the brain for it. All timey-wimey-wibbly-wobbly. You have to be really careful writing it because I think a lot of writers can mess up with time travel.

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    1. Yeah, I've read books with really irritating time travel devices. I'm no scientist, but it needs to make sense on a basic level otherwise the whole thing falls apart. Hence my decision to put my own time travel story to one side quite quickly ^^;

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  3. Back to the Future actually bugged me about its rules -- the first movie is quite clear that any chances you make affect your current timeline, and the wrong move can make you erase yourself.

    Then in Back to the Future 2 they introduced alternate timelines... but it was very unclear on why some changes resulted in alt timelines and others resulted in changing the current timeline and risking fading out.

    (I did comment on this originally but I think my PC destroyed it. Siiighhh. PC hates me.)

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    1. Boo, PC!

      I think I love the characters of Back to the Future enough to let it go, but they really did need to pick a set of rules and stick to them.

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