Writing Craft Notes

Stress Tests for a Universe

January 5, 2019

I’m a regular listener to J. Daniel Sawyer’s podcast, The Every Day Novelist. Recently another listener asked about how to “stress test” an idea for a story. I provided some feedback, which Dan pointed out in a feedback episode was more about stress testing a universe than an idea. He also pointed out that many wonderful stories (such as Kubrick’s and Hitchcock’s) would fail my stress tests but still be wonderful stories.

Here’s the list for reference:

A. Where do the raw materials required for this premise come from?
Particularly food–what’s that dragon in the Lonely Mountain eating? Or those asteroid miners probing the depths of space? But this can also apply to metals, computer chips, whatever the magical source is, etc. If it’s something cultural, where do the believers come from?

B. What are the maintenance requirements?
Everything breaks and falls apart over time–not just physical objects, but social structures, scientific principles, etc. Is the premise so new that maintenance is not yet required? If not, what’s keeping it going?

C. How long will it take to make this happen?
Very little comes into being in an instant.

D. Has something like this ever been tried before?
There are a lot of historical analogs to things modern day premises. Is that new jazzy weapon the equivalent of bringing guns to the fight the Aztecs, or bringing machine guns into Belgium in World War One? Both had new war technology, but with massively different results.

E. How could this premise be intentionally abused?
The internet is for porn. Social Media is for hate groups. Better medicines means new drugs to abuse . Lots of new things help make slavery, rape, and murder easier.

F. What could go wrong?
Not just what’s reasonable, but what are the black swans that would bring everything down?


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