Noncredible vs. Unlikely

>> Thursday, September 30, 2010

In my line of work (day job), a great deal of time is spent separating potential scenarios from "non-credible" scenarios, scenarios that are either considered so far fetch as to be "impossible" or physically impossible. Now I could go on and on about those folks who confuse "non-credible" with unlikely, impossible with implausible. In real life, when you do that, it can become easy to convince yourself a risk, for instant, isn't really a risk. But space history's full of catastrophic and near-catastrophic accidents that were, every one, scenarios no one expected could or would really happen.

But in fiction, it happens, too. People frequently dismiss a notion or a concept or a character: someone's too old or young to do "X", magic or science couldn't do what they call out, human nature, individual or in groups, would never do "Y."

But there's a world of difference between "impossible" and "implausible." When you talk about youthful or elderly expertise, there are plenty of examples in history. In the most sexist or racist societies in the world, there are stories that have come through the ages of superlative women and oppressed peoples who have done what should have been impossible.

For all the stories of people banding together to do evil things, there are groups of people doing good things: smuggling/hiding Jews in Nazi-held land, smuggling slaves away from the south, standing up to oppressor without using violence. Check out the Mother's blog, for instance, for some of the extremes in craziness in our far (and not so far) past, particularly on Friday's when she has her posts on the nefarious history of motherhood. Fascinating stuff.

Science can't do something, you insist? Ha! Who can say what we'll be able to do in 500 years. Do you think they could imagine what we can do today in 1510? Computers with whole libraries on them, communication with the world instantaneously, cure disease as we do, fly in the sky? Just in the past hundred years, look at what's changed. Why are we so sure we can predict what we'll have to work with in 100 years?

If something's happened, it's not non-credible (by definition). If it's not readily disproved, not demonstrably impossible, I don't think we can say it is impossible or will be in the future, or even in the past. Rare events are even better than the mundane (at least it makes it more interesting for me).

So write, tweak, play, dabble, and take what-if as far as you want.

But, remember, it's not enough to just dream . . . you have to sell that dream to a reader as well. And that takes more than coming up with a "cool" concept. More on that next time.


  • Darrell B. Nelson

    When it comes to impossible things in 1510 I can only think of two that were impossible then but possible now.
    Magnetism to Electricity - Thanks to a lot of bad lab work scientists at the time were convinced that the two forces were unrelated. Finding out they were related led to just about everything we think of as modern.
    Atom splitting and Matter to Energy - The whole relativity thing.
    So if you take one impossible thing in todays world and make it possible it will change the world in 500 years in ways that even I can't imagine. Like learning that magnetism and electricity are related changed the world to what we have now.

  • Roy

    What was it Sherlock Holmes said? "Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth." Makes sense to me!

  • The Mother

    I often find myself dismissing plot twists as ridiculous. Then I do my historical research and say, oh, yeah, wait...

  • Jeff King

    Great points... it makes me feel better, about some stories I have planed on writing.

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