Creative Licence

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Greetings from sunny Baltimore! My company, in its infinite wisdom, has flown me out here for three meetings, one of which I could just as easily have had back in London. It does mean that I get a couple of days remembering what summer looks like though, so I’m not complaining too much. (Summer is nice, by the way. I recommend a visit.)

On the plane over I watched John Carter. There’s a lot wrong with the film – not least, the fact I only learned the names of several key characters by reading the wiki entry later – but there’s one thing that I absolutely loved. The titular hero is transported from Earth to Mars, where the difference in gravity and consequent physicality means he can jump ridiculous distances. Now, I know nothing about biology and even less about astro-physics, but as a layman I really liked this approach to changing planets. Something on the nature of breathable gases would have been nice, since they were paying nominal attention to this sort of thing, but I guess a hero who dies of asphyxiation upon arrival makes for a short film.

This got me thinking – is it okay to ignore some physical logical consequences for the sake of storytelling? Is that acceptable creative license or running up against visible red thread? Or just a sign that your setting isn’t solid enough? At what point, if ever, are you as a writer allowed to rely on the reader’s suspension of disbelief?

Example: Tolkein’s elves are naturally immortal. We know that they can and do have multiple children – Elrond had two sons and a daughter. So why isn’t there a population explosion of elves? How come they are confined to two small patches of forest, rather than taking over the whole of Middle Earth? Same question for the therns of John Carter, the vampires of Anne Rice, and a whole bunch of others.

The answer is that it makes a different story, and we’re telling this one. Think how much poorer the world of literature would be without those tales, physical illogic and all. We address what we can and hope the adventure itself carries the rest, that the reader will forgive our lack of geo/biological perfection.

But is that good enough?

EDIT: Apparently this is related to Fridge Logic – a term I had not previously heard before but which is beautifully descriptive.

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