Writing Technobabble: O is for Occam’s Razor

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! 

O is for Occam’s Razor 

This entry doesn’t pertain to writing science fiction specifically, but I believe that it’s a principle that can aid sci-fi writers (or all writers, really). Occam’s Razor is an eponymous concept attributed to a 13th century friar named William of Ockham. 

Occam’s Razor is a principle of philosophy or logic that says, basically, that the simplest explanation for a situation is the most likely to be true. It’s not foolproof, certainly, in fiction or real life; but it’s a great concept to keep in mind when creating both complex plots and complex tech.

Part of the ideology of Occam’s Razor suggests that a conclusion should be drawn based on the fewest assumptions possible. The more assumptions (rather than facts or evidence) that have to used to arrive at a conclusion, the more likely the room for error.

As writers, we often want our readers to make assumptions based on the clues we’ve left—whether it’s assumptions about a character’s motivation, or assumptions about upcoming events in the plot. When done well, assumptions by the reader can give them a satisfying reading experience—by either having their assumptions proven correct by the end of the story, or proving their assumptions wrong and thus keeping them turning the pages to get the answers. A great story usually combines elements of both; readers like to be challenged and surprised, but also enjoy feeling smart by figuring out a few things along the way. Readers also usually like to see how all of the clues, red herrings, and plot threads tie together and ultimately make sense, even if their initial assumptions were incorrect. 

Complexity, of both plot and tech, is common in the sci-fi genres, and most hardcore sci-fi readers like it that way. Simplicity isn’t necessarily always best for the story. However, logic usually is. Fiction, unlike real life, has to make sense. 

The principle of Occam’s Razor also has a long and valued history in scientific pursuits, and therefore can be appropriate in various sorts of science fiction, especially if the sci-fi story draws heavily on real history. Albert Einstein, Max Planck, and other physicists of the early 20th century employed Occam’s Razor in various situations to help them arrive at their now well-known conclusions regarding relativity and quantum mechanics. 

Depending on how technical or science-heavy your sci-fi is, you may or may not care about studying principles of logic and the scientific method when writing your story. And that’s okay! Occam’s Razor is a well-used and engaging concept, though, that can perhaps help you when you need to dig past character personalities and flashy ray guns and look at the structure of your story. Happy writing!

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