The Nonsense Factor

When building a new world from scratch, a lot of elements can be determined based off of a pre-existing sense or understanding of the world. I’ve discussed this approach in previous blog posts: start from the known, and work your way out. Know you want a moon deity? Then also know that there’s going to be a lot of importance placed on the phases of the moon, maybe on the tides, et cetera.

You can use this with essentially any plotting questions you may have about your own story. Anything from the cultural aspects of an area to different traits of a character to even specific plot points in the narrative itself. Building blocks, my friend.

But I would not have titled this blog post “The Nonsense Factor” if it was all cold, hard logic. Or, to rephrase, if it had to be all cold, hard logic. I was considering religion the other day. As I am not a religious person, myself, it’s easy to look at such things from an objective standpoint. And it struck me, the other day, that while many elements tied together sensibly, there were a few examples of things that didn’t seem to make sense at all. Such examples litter all types of religions…less of “nonsense” and more of “a curiosity,” but I’ll refrain from giving examples lest I accidentally offend.

What it boils down to is belief. Perception, if you will. Consider magic systems. Magic is, by definition, an unknowable, inexplicable thing. It has rules that it follows, yes, and learning and practicing magic would allow for a character to understand those rules better than one who has not studied it. However, there are still going to be situations where a character might try to use magic, and it does not work. Perhaps there is an unknown rule about the moon cycle. Perhaps the character is not strong enough to cast the spell or whatever. My point is, until a thing is completely known–and, truly, is there anything at all that even we as humans have studied long enough and closely enough to fully understand?–it is liable to do a thing that does not make sense to us.

That’s where the nonsense factor comes in. It is the idea that, because of the unknowable bigness of a universe, there are likely to be sudden and insensible facts or deeds that take place. For your characters–especially for the non-PoV characters, whose minds the reader cannot see into– the nonsense factor would equate to random acts of kindness or a decision that seemingly goes against their nature. For your plot, it would mean sudden obstacles popping up unexpectedly or even surprising news about something taking place halfway across the world. And, for your world, it means religious beliefs that don’t have any direct connection with the main idea of the deity(s) or misconceptions about simple scientific things that we, as modern readers, might know to be false even if our characters do not.

Essentially, if we take the metaphor of building blocks, going from the known to the unknown would basically be cubes stacked carefully atop each other. The nonsense factors, however, would be strangely-shaped spheres or some such that would require another strangely-shaped block to allow the building to progress. It may look funny, those spheres, but they add a more realistic element to the story in that they prove not everything has to make sense. There should always be a difference between what you know as the writer and what the character knows as an entity within the world you created. They don’t have to know all the rules.

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Have you ever read a story where some set of beliefs that had no indicators to imply they’re real ended up being completely true anyway? Or have you ever read a story where the opposite holds true, in that a character believes in something, but the author makes it clear that they’re wrong?

An example of the former is Marie Lu’s Young Elites trilogy. Spoilers ahead, but… I’ve spoken on it before, but her mythos had been surprisingly in-depth for someone who prefers to write dystopian novels. Unfortunately, eager to wrap up the series, she sent her main characters on a quest in the final books to seek out deities that could help them with their magic. Despite having given the readers no proof that such entities existed, the characters themselves were able to find these people and solve their problems quite neatly. I was almost as disappointed with that as I was with the Game of Thrones ending.


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