Write What You Don’t Know: The Timesaving Concept of Apologetics

Futuristic Time Machine Time PortalWrite what you know—great advice, but sometimes, the best ideas surpass your knowledge. While the Internet has made research easier than ever, it’s still tedious to sift through the clutter. If you needed to earn a master’s degree every time you plotted a science fiction short story, then you’d never write anything! So, until time turners become available to the masses, we have to find ways to cut corners. This brings us to apologetics.

Now, before you Google the term ‘apologetic’ and wonder why I’m telling you to defend religious doctrines in your writing, let me explain.

In my current project, I was struggling to describe how a certain serum affected my characters. One of my critique partners, who works in the sciences, pointed out that my idea was not scientifically sound. And while I was grateful for his expertise, I was discouraged. I felt like I had to enroll in a biochemistry class to get my bearings on the subject—an option that was not viable for me financially or time-wise. That was when my other critique partner suggested I use an apologetic—a concept he learned from a sports podcast of all places! He clarified that the reader only needs an explanation that they understand, not necessarily one that works in the real world. So if I could give a concrete example or analogy that established how the serum worked, it would omit the need to divulge the actual scientific explanation.

In case I’ve lost you, let’s look at a classic case: A Wrinkle in Time. Readers want and need to know: what’s a wrinkle in time and how does it work? Madeleine L’Engle employs an apologetic in chapter five to explain. Her character, Mrs. Whatsit, states:

“If a very small insect were to move from the section of skirt in Mrs. Who’s right hand to that in her left, it would be quite a long walk for him if he had to walk straight across.”

Swiftly Mrs. Who brought her hands, still holding the skirt, together. “Now you see,” Mrs. Whatsit said, “he would be there, without that long trip. That is how we travel.”

While the rest of the chapter elaborates more on time travel and the fifth dimension, that simple imagery gets the idea across. The real explanation of wrinkling time may be far too complex for the characters (and readers) to comprehend, but what they can understand is that a line folded in half makes the distance between two points shorter than walking straight across.

Are you with me now?

More than saving time on research, apologetics is also a means of explaining the rules of your fictional universe to readers. Since the logic in science fiction and fantasy worlds often surpasses that of the real world, research isn’t always a factor. A perfectly reasonable answer for how anything works in Harry Potter, for instance, is: “because, magic!” (Though that is not to discount the carefully considered brilliance of J.K. Rowling’s world building.) That said, apologetics can enhance the believability of your world. If you establish there’s a certain spell that can only be performed once, readers will want to know why. Perhaps performing that specific spell is like firing a cannon from a canoe—after one attempt, the vessel will sink (a.k.a. the performer will be destroyed). While readers don’t know what exactly that spell does to the body, the image of a cannon capsizing a canoe certainly leaves an impression.

I’ll bet you’re starting to recall apologetics from various books, TV shows, and movies—think of any story where one character is rattling off lofty words and the other character says: “in English please!” While not every story requires it, apologetics is yet another helpful weapon to add to your writing arsenal. The infamous ‘they’ always say that there’s more than one way of doing things. And now there’s also more than one way of saying things! So take the pressure off when you’re overwhelmed by a pile of research, or building the rules of your world, and find an example that says it all for you.

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/time-portal-time-machine-travel-2034990/