A way with worlds: 34 - The Odds
by Steven Savage of Seventh Sanctum
Page 2 of 2
Knowing the chance for things to happen in your
world is important to writing, because knowing probabilities gives pattern and
meaning to your world. A character who is more powerful than average will be
able to do more. A vehicle that is much faster than average may prove an
advantage, or if its a rare technology, be the target of theft. A rare weapon
will call attention to its wielder.
Knowing the odds also keeps you from piling on
improbabilities as well as lets you give your readers a reference. When you
a feat is nearly impossible, the reader may be impressed and enthralled. When
several of these impossible feats happen with no explanation, the reader is
likely to be depressed and appalled.
Besides, if your characters are fighting against
all odds, it's nice to know what those odds are.
CHARACTERS' IDEAS ABOUT THE
How characters perceive the odds is another important element
of knowing how common occurrences, actions, and appearances are.
I once was involved in a study entering data on a
study of how humans perceived and reacted to odds. It was not strictly
mathematical - people react to odds not by simple calculation but by
by payoffs involved, by perception, and so forth.
Have you ever heard people talk about a particular
group (one they were most likely biased against) and how much power they had -
though this group was a tiny and disliked minority? Did you want to ask them
that was possible (or more impolitely if they knew how stupid they sounded).
That's a case of people not seeing the odds, but seeing their biases.
This produces an odd dichotomy in writing - you
well have a better idea of the odds of things happening, but your characters
likely not to be doing simple mathematical analyses of situations. You've got
figure out how they perceive and react to the odds as they see them.
So a bigoted fantasy dwarf may see elven
everywhere, even though there's no elves for hundreds of miles. Someone may
catching an exceedingly rare disease due to hypochondria, but have a nasty drug
habit that's sure to harm them because they need the high.
Of course, the actual odds may well catch up with
such characters - and that can be a major part of your plot. In fact, its a
classic element in stories that many characters, especially antagonists, keep
dodging the odds, not thinking that they'll eventually catch up with them. A
hero may sacrifice himself knowing full well he'll suffer because of the
HOW MUCH DO YOU NEED TO
usually find the answer to this question is "enough to write and feel
comfortable with the world." Yes, I've said it before in other columns - and I
find it stands here to.
As for finding the odds - that's up for hard work,
contemplation, and research. You can probably make better guesses than you
realize, but don't go yanking ideas out of thin air with no backing.
Always write your research and findings down.
There's no excuse to keep your hard work stored in your head where it may get
Know the basic and
important odds of your world and how your characters perceive them - it will
help you write more realistically and write your characters more realistically
A Way with Worlds is hosted
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A German translation is in the works at Christian
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Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Steven Savage, sffworld.com. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.