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!
D is for Details
Have you heard the saying “the devil is in the details”? What this means is that the little details matter, and it’s the little things that can trip you up and create big problems. So for us writers, here’s a paraphrase: “the story is in the details.”
“Story” is a lot of things—it’s characters, it’s plot, it’s theme, it’s voice. But what gives all of those things an extra punch, and can help turn an okay story into a great one is rich details. Details are an important element of world-building, and can add a lot to the believability element.
In the sci-fi epic TV show Babylon 5, the Earth ships used rotating sections to create gravity, whereas most of the other alien races had more advanced technology to generate artificial gravity. Every time an Earth ship appeared, they were immediately recognizable because of the bulky spinning sections in the center. The explanation of the spinning center of the ship came up briefly only once or twice during the 5-year series, but the important detail of the ship design was consistent throughout, with or without an explanation.
Details can be big—like space ships with rotating sections—or small, like the color difference between the two types of stargates in the Stargate TV shows. The stargates in the Milky Way Galaxy have nodules that glow red when the chevrons are engaged and the gate is activated. The stargates in the Pegasus Galaxy glow blue. It’s never really mentioned in the show that the colors are different—the focus is actually more on the distance between the two galaxies and how to link the two stargate networks with each other. But the details are apparent to the savvy viewer, and help to dispel any potential confusion about which set of stargates is which.
Now it is possible to go overboard with all these lovely details, especially when writing a book. Too many details can slow down the pace of the story, can be distracting, or can confuse the reader. Sometimes too many details can be called an “infodump,” which I’ll blog about later on when we get to the letter “I.”
But don’t neglect the details, large and small, of your tech and your worldbuilding. When writing, it’s okay for a first draft to have too many details; clean-up and tightening of your storytelling and explanations can happen in later drafts or with an editor’s help.