Writing Technobabble: E is for Explanation (or Not)

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! 

E is for Explanation

One of the fun things about designing futuristic tech or cool otherworldly gadgets is explaining how they work. To the super-nerds among us, explaining in a realistic and believable manner how every single piece of tech works is the best part of writing. And there are plenty of readers who love all those nerdy explanations.

It’s easy to explain too much, though. I’ll cover “infodumps” in a later post, and too much detailed explanation of how tech works would fall into the infodump category. Some stories, though, lend themselves to more or less explanation of the tech. 

For example, let’s compare the stories in the Star Trek universe versus the stories of the Star Wars universe. Both feature space ships, alien technology, and assorted cool gadgets that don’t exist in real life. But there’s a big difference in how the information about the tech is delivered.

Star Trek thrives on technobabble. Explanations are frequently given in dialogue on the show about how something works, and how things work is often an important part of the plot. The technology and the science of the tech is an integral part of the Star Trek universe. (And for the super-nerds, there are even extra resources, like the Star Trek technical manuals, that explain in even more detail how each piece of tech works.) 

In Star Wars, there’s very little explanation given for any of the tech. In the Star Wars universe, how tech works isn’t important—all that really matters is that it does work. Most characters know what a lightsaber is, or how to fly a ship or hovercraft of one sort or another, because such things are part of their world. Few of them know how these things work, nor do they care, because it’s not important to the story. The tech is more part of the setting of the story world, rather than part of the plot, like in Star Trek

When inventing your own tech, you should determine what is needed for the story. Are you writing a dystopian thriller where the plot hinges on rebuilding new advanced tech out of the ruins of the old? Then some scientific and detailed explanations of the tech would be in order. On the other hand, if you’re writing a steampunk-esque space fantasy where steam-powered airships and rayguns are merely the trappings of the world because your plot is a swashbuckling romance, then explanations of tech is probably not very important. 

There’s no right or wrong when it comes to offering specs and explanations of your tech, or offering none. Just make sure that it makes sense for the story you’re writing and the world you’re creating. And stay tuned for the letter “I” post in a few days to learn more about how to offer explanations without going overboard into the realm of infodumps.


12 thoughts on “Writing Technobabble: E is for Explanation (or Not)

  1. Pingback: Writing Technobabble: G is for Genre | StorytellerGirl

  2. Pingback: Writing Technobabble: H is for History | StorytellerGirl

  3. Pingback: Writing Technobabble: I is for Infodump | StorytellerGirl

  4. I love the work of Peter F Hamilton, which has a lot of explanation, but one of the things that I found frustrating, as a professional scientist and engineer, is that acronyms aren’t explained when you first encounter them. They always turn up eventually, but when you’re taught to explain them as soon as you use them…

    David – @BreakerOfThings from
    Fiction Can Be Fun
    Saying hello as part of the #A2ZChallenge


  5. Pingback: Writing Technobabble: Q is for Quirky, Quintessential, Quantum Questions | StorytellerGirl

  6. Pingback: Writing Technobabble: T is for Technology | StorytellerGirl

  7. Pingback: Writing Technobabble: Z is for Zathras | StorytellerGirl

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