I ran into someone on a Google+ community who was asking people what they thought about his idea for a sci-fi story. He wanted to know what would happen if half of the water on the planet suddenly vanished. I was the first to ask him how it happened and apparently, he has no answer.
And yes, it matters.
That’s really how my mind works, people can come up with all kinds of bizarre ideas and I’ll spend time trying to figure out how it works and if how it works makes sense. Unfortunately, I think a lot of writers need to spend more time working out the ramifications of their plot concepts, rather than just coming up with an idea and running with it straight into a logical brick wall.
In this particular case, it really does make a difference how he does this. It’s a science fiction story so he can’t introduce magic or anything like that to account for the disappearance of the water. So what logical means might there be to accomplish this task? Of course, the obvious would be a large asteroid or comet impact that would boil off the water, but that has two problems. First and most obvious, it’s going to kill all of the people and without people, it’s not going to be a very interesting story. Secondly, it’s only temporary, the majority of the vaporized water is going to cool in the upper atmosphere and produce torrential rains worldwide. Too bad nobody will be around to see it. Bad idea, cross that one out. Some sort of natural disaster? What if all of the volcanoes on the planet suddenly went active to the point that they burned off half of the water. You have much the same problem, this is not conducive to life on Earth so you have an event with no one to enjoy it from the front row. In fact, pretty much any natural cause that would produce such effects in the natural world would do so to the detriment of any living organism on the planet. These don’t work. So how about aliens? There have been plenty of sci-fi movies and TV shows where aliens have wanted our water. Think “V” or Battle: Los Angeles. Of course, one of those, it was a cover and the other is a bad movie, but let’s be honest, how would the aliens actually go about doing it and why? I don’t care how advanced your technology is, there’s about 326,000,000,000,000,000,000 gallons of water on the planet, I don’t care how amazing your technical abilities, putting half of that into a spaceship, or fleet of spaceships, is going to be pretty damn difficult. What’s worse is, there’s no reason to actually do it. Water is pretty abundant in the universe. Aliens in our local area could just swing by the Oort cloud and pick up a couple of proto-comets and have all the water they’d ever want. Why bother trying to transport it off of a planet?
Ultimately, while it might be an interesting idea to explore, I don’t think you can get from idea to execution rationally. That may not matter to some people but to me, it’s extremely important. It’s something that’s going to stick in my craw and will keep me from enjoying your book. I hate ad hoc, irrational story elements that are clearly done, just to keep the story going on. If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all.
I guess that’s why there are so few authors that I really enjoy because far too many are more interested in telling the story they want to tell than in making sense of the story. I make that complaint regularly about TV shows and movies too. If your narrative doesn’t make sense, how am I supposed to enjoy it? It just seems like a kluge to get where you want to go instead of where the natural storyline takes you. That bugs me.
In the end, the guy stopped responding, I think he took the criticisms on the thread to heart and hopefully he’s rethinking his story. I want to give him that benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be surprised if he just moved his question to another community for sci-fi writers, hoping to find that positive feedback I’m sure he was looking for. I see that all the time too and it’s really discouraging.
So what discourages you? Comment below and let me know.