Smokin’ out the facts on getting your story straight

The thing I was bothered most about while re-watching Alien recently was how, in the middle of space, on a ship with finite resources and processed oxygen, people could casually sit around smoking cigarettes. While smoking is legal it’s not sensible and MOST ESPECIALLY IN SPACE. I guess in space no one can hear you wheeze. My main problem with it was it totally detracted from the believability. It took me out of the scene and into wondering about OH&S, oxygen generators and medical support. I know later they had other more immediate *issues* to deal with. But it was like… a lazy way to show these future people in space are people like the people now. And it was also a suspicious product placement type of thing to do.

Mainly I’m sick of being removed from the story by things writers get wrong. I’m not saying smoking is *wrong*…maybe in 500 years there will be healthy inter-galactic cigarettes, but it wasn’t in the story. Yet even the news does it. I was listening to ABC Radio National (Australia) and the 8am news had a story about the spiders in cars and then they called theses pesky Yellow Sack Spiders insects. Insects! And this was the news, not some science fiction story.

The other thing that bothers me in film/TV is when a character is dreaming and is shown thrashing around while in the dream state. Science says this is not true. There is only stillness (apparently too boring for tele) or sleep walking.  The one recent thing which bothered me on Being Human was when Nina was woken by smell. In humans this NEVER happens. It’s the reason why people need smoke alarms to wake them – as noise or light can wake humans but not odour, gas or smoke.  Being Human has an escape clause though for this, they can argue Nina’s special werewolf status increased her sensitivity to smell (which has been demonstrated before) now even when she sleeps. It’s ok as a wolf, wrong has a human.

The thing is, there’s barely an excuse to be wrong or to guess. Research is a writer’s great hidden skill  – or should be. And now this modern internet thingamy is cram-packed with information – even proper sciency-dependable knowledge.

In the end I’m willing to suspend my disbelief if your world has internal consistency, if there are rules you set up. If you’re going to be wrong about something be wrong deliberately and work it into the logic of your story – and same goes for the rules of whatever future or past or alternate world you invent and then break. Don’t just let some assumption hang in the air like smoke, waiting for someone else to spot and complain about as your story is suffocates from logic meltdown.

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