The Top Five SF Plot Contrivances

37 MinutesWriters can get backed into storytelling corners if they’re not careful. One of the benefits of science fiction, though, is that writers in a tight spot can wave a magic wand (okay, a sonic screwdriver) to get themselves out of it — a kind of “pay no attention to what my right hand is doing” scenario. How many of these have you encountered?

  1. “Tech the Tech to the Tech:” — made popular (or is it notorious?) in Star Trek: the Next Generation, technobabble is a great way to avoid being cornered. All you have to do is conjure something that sounds all science-y, and that wraps everything up with a big red bow when the button is pushed.
  2. Alternate Reality — your protagonist just got herself killed? Don’t worry. Turns out it was all happening in a parallel reality. Or in a virtual-reality experiment. Whew! Pull the ripcord and bail out of that tight spot, and live to write another day.
  3. Clarke’s First Law — you know, the one that says “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” This is a lot like #1 above, but the difference is that this is the alien’s technology we’re talking about here. So not only do your readers not understand how it works — neither do your characters. But it must have worked, because now everyone’s safe at home again. Thank goodness! (See the ending of The Abyss for a classic recent example.)
  4. MacGuffin Creep — getting tired of writing believable scenes with thoughtful dialogue and sustainable tension? Why not take a vacation in Digressionland? Offer up a complete history of the alien culture’s socioeconomic system. Recap the history of star flight technology up to the present day. By the time you get back to the “A” plot, no one will remember where you left them hanging. Hey, if encyclopedic trivia worked for Tom Clancy and James A. Michener, it can work for you too — and you can make it up on the spot!
  5. Blow People’s MindsLost. ‘Nuff said.
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