Welcome to my guide on how to write technobabble! Every post will start with one letter of the alphabet, from A to Z, and cover tips and ideas for all you writers of sci-fi. Whether you’re writing about near-future science fiction, far-flung alien worlds, or historical steampunk adventures filled with advanced technology that never was – these posts are designed to help you write convincing and unique tech for your story!
C is for Consistency
In my opinion, consistency is one the most important elements to creating technobabble and advanced science for your sci-fi world. This goes along with my previous post about believability. Consistency is the next step to making all of your finely-crafted world-building truly believable within the story.
Despite all of the chaos that the past year or so has brought us, even in the real world there is some consistency. The laws of physics are consistent. All living things (humans, animals, plants) need to consume food and water in some form or another to live. Our planet still rotates at the same speed as always, creating the day and night cycle. Computers require electrical energy to operate—whether that energy comes from a battery or a plug connected to wires in the wall. Consistency.
In science fiction, whether it’s a near-future tech thriller or high fantasy in outer space, the rules of that particular fictional world must be consistent throughout the story. Let’s say your space ships are generational city-ships because they cannot travel faster than light to explore the universe—but then at the end of the saga they are suddenly zipping around at faster-than-light speeds and arriving at far-flung planets in mere hours. If there’s no explanation for how the technology and the rules of space travel changed during the story, then you have a big problem. No consistency, and therefore your story’s believability just went out the window.
Consistency applies to the little stuff, too. Do all of your tech-mages cast their spells or manipulate their tech with their left hands? You’d better make sure that one never uses his right hand for such a thing, unless it’s an important and intentional part of the story. Is your main alien race allergic to salt? Even if it’s not a major plot point in the story, if an alien is suddenly eating salty chips and doesn’t get sick, then you have a consistency issue.
In the Star Trek universe, all ships travel with a warp drive. Even though the ships can go faster than the speed of light, it’s never called “light speed” or “hyper drive.” The use of the technobabble term is consistent.
In the classic steampunk novel The Difference Engine, the word “computer” is never used, even though that’s what the highly advanced information-processing machines are. They are always called Engines, in keeping with the Victorian language of the world. In fact, the word “compute” is rarely, if ever used; instead, “analyze” is used to describe what the Engines do (in keeping with the historical Analytic Engine, which is the real-world inspiration for the book).
Even if you’re great at keeping everything organized in your head as you write, I recommend writing down notes while you’re plotting and drafting your book, so that you can stay consistent. Whether it’s organized index cards, a long file in Google docs, or a highly-detailed spreadsheet, keep notes on your world and your tech so that you can be consistent.