The Mechanics of Science & Magic


My question is relatively simple.

In terms of each genre how in depth do you prefer these to be?

Do you like to know the how’s what’s and why’s or would you rather a simple 'it exists '.

I’ll leave my personal opinions aside for the time being give room for others to speak their piece.


I prefer that the creator knows the how and what of their world and only explain as necessary to the plot. In essence keep it consistent but not expository for it’s own sake. Ultimately I think that comes back to me being more world builder, less story builder, but I still believe it’s recommended for a good story.


I find “it just is” annoying unless they’re making a joke out of it. I will however accept “the huge solid wall is made from sheer stubborn determination. No really. That’s it.”.

I do like knowing how everything works but not having an entire textbook chapter in my face at once.


It’s not important in the slightest. If there’s limitations or rules or details, they better directly come back to bite the characters in the ass via the plot or else you’ve just wasted the time and brainpower of both you and your reader. The fictional world does not exist outside of the story, so everything in it should advance the story efficiently, or else be discarded or retooled so it does. The only reason the DeLorean has to hit 88 (which is functionally magic) is so that later they can have trouble getting up to 88, because the car stalls or because they’re out of gas in the Old West. The reason Marty and his relatives gradually fade out over a period of days instead of him disappearing instantly or not at all is not because the writers sat down and figured out a sensible time travel scheme where the effects of timeline changes advanced at a speed greater than 1 second per second but not instantaneously, but because they thought it better ratcheted up the suspense and the stakes to have a “race against the clock” element at play.

(Why, yes, I did rewatch Back To The Future 2 days ago.)



if I were to write a sci-fi you’d rather only know about things that are pertinent to the moment and get on with the story. Rather than explain the inner workings of some of tech surrounding them.

I know I tend to run away with my explanations, be it the history of a character or how the tech they’re wearing is used. I’ve some very in depth designs.
Mechanized bi-pedal drones
Magic- theology and Methodology
among other things

In the case of the Drones, you would only want to know how it works ‘when’ it works. Like:

Preparing for a combat deployment the pilot syncs his thoughts to the ‘Slate’; a computer designed to filter and direct neural signals into the drones systems. Black mercury pumping through synthetic muscles, bringing this form to life with micro-shocks stimulating and simulating the electric signals of the brain. One by one flexing the fingers as his mind finally adjusts to visual display and Slate feedback and logistics.

Something like that rather than going all blueprint mode?


That’s the right idea, but you could cut it to the bone even more. The vital nugget of information the reader needs to know to understand what’s happening next in the story, what you must get across to them, is that through the Slate, the pilot is psychically connected to their drone, and furthermore, drones are used for war. You could say exactly that, or show it instead, which might look something like this:

The pilot ran to his battle station and strapped on his Slate interface helmet as the air raid sirens blared. Black mercury blood pumped down to the drone’s hand as the pilot clenched his — and its — fists.

If it’s still not clear enough that the Slate helmet connects the pilot to the drone, you could write in a part where the pilot gets their helmet dislodged and the connection suddenly severs at a very inconvenient time, thus parlaying exposition directly into juicy, tense conflict. If you want to incorporate the detail about the electric signals simulating the brain, you could show an EMP bomb taking out three drones in one go and have someone say “look out for those EMP bombs, they’ll short out your drone’s positronic brain,” so now you have another obstacle to avoid. If it’s not causing me problems, why would I care about it? My car, do I care about how it works until it breaks down and I have to fix it? Do we write stories about The Car That Worked Right And Here’s How, or about The Car That Broke Down By The Side Of The Road, Stranding Our Hapless Protagonist In Werewolf Territory During A Full Moon?

(You COULD cut it to the bone even more: “the pilot clenched his fists, and, with his Slate helmet on, the drone’s,” but that’s very dry. There’s no flavor, no texture, no urgency or location or emotion.)


If the creator of it explain it good then okay if they say because it like that then no. I want it to be explain as to why and not just because they say so, but that just me.


well as long as the writer can understand it in some way or another I don’t care all too much, however in some cases it might be different, like a story where nobody understands a specific technology.
for example if there’s a story where humanity fights aliens, we the humans don’t really know how alien technology works, so you probably don’t need to add much of an explanation there.


You can always do something like Mecha Ace did, add a codex in the stats page that allows people interested in the specifics of your world to find out more about it.


If it adds to the story, go for your life, sometimes it can be nice to have a bit of background. If it gets overdone and is not written in really well it can drag a story down though. If there’s a lot of info you want in there that isn’t directly relevant to the story, maybe consider an appendix where you can put as much info as you want, anyone who wants to read it can, anyone who just wants to get on with the story can ignore it.


All good points,

the consensus seems to be ‘save your breath’, speak when necessary.
I can understand holding back and not wanting to mine your way through boring details, of which I’ve witnessed in some games where there’s not much game but ALOT of details that are essentially pointless.

I think when it comes time for me to get into stories with bestiaries and techno-glossaries I’ll be making good use of the stat’s section.

thanks for the enlightenment @Chwoka ; interesting direction you took the Slate&Drone idea, different than my own but still interesting.
Would love to discuss sci-fi ideas sometime if you’ve the inclination.


Personally, as a writer, for my own benefit I want to hash out why things work behind the scenes for magic or “science”, even if it’s something really simple. I find making sure things have a reason not only makes your world make more sense, but I also find that things just kinda fall into place and fit together without much effort when coming up with new ideas. As for actual getting these ideas across to the reader, consistency is probably the key. I personally don’t mind reading through a bit of info dump on things if its interesting, but there’s likely better ways to get the ideas across.


Perhaps instead of monster blocks of just explanation maybe one can work the nuts and bolts of more interesting or obscure things into character conversation?

Ei) A lone engineer and a quirky AI’S back and forth conversation over how the solar lights aren’t working right in hangar b and how grumpy the man eating plants are because of faulty installation. Add a Lil joke about lost pants and you can make something sciency entertaining. And who wouldn’t giggle at the fact a mutant flower stole your pants;)… ignore the fact it tried to eat you though… not as funny