14.37: Outlandish Impossibilities

Your Hosts: Brandon, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Howard

Some science fiction and fantasy stories arise from a premise which, under even just rudimentary examination, appear utterly ridiculous. And some of these stories are hugely successful. In this episode we talk about how we manage our worldbuilding when the goal is less about building a world which works, and more about getting the audience to buy in on something outlandish so we can get on with our story.

Liner Notes: “Went With The Wind” begins about two minutes into this full episode of the Carole Burnett Show

Credits: This episode was recorded by Dan Thompson and mastered by Alex Jackson


Write an outlandish impossibility. First: find a three-year-old, and ask them to tell you a story. Now write that story. 

You Owe Me a Murder, by Eileen Cook

7 thoughts on “14.37: Outlandish Impossibilities”

  1. The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear outlandish, impossible, and ridiculous premises is Steven Universe. It’s literally about a race of sentient gemstones who are invading Earth. The main character is half gem, half human.
    But they keep the weirdness there. They don’t go over budget. There’s some weak science fiction that you’d expect in a kid show, so it doesn’t really count.
    The emotional plots are so real and relatable, we don’t care that these are walking talking gemstone alien invaders. It doesn’t matter what’s happening externally.

  2. Another great example is Harry Potter. The world makes no sense, and the plot is full of holes, but the emotional resonance is so powerful that we don’t care about these flaws, and it’s the best-selling book series of all time.

  3. I love writing excuses! It’s a great help.

    I love kids, so I was excited to try this writing prompt with my 3 year old daughter. I ask her to tell me a story, and she refuses unless she can have some of my orange. I make the deal, and then she just answers in jibberish.

    But right before that she was jumping on the couch saying, “super jump.” So, a character who’s a super hero and his power is jumping really high, but he can only do it off of couches!

  4. The original quartet without excuses, Brandon, Mary Robinette, Dan, and Howard, talked about stories with a dash of the incredible, the outlandish, the impossible in their setting. Why do we have these unbelievable premises? How do we introduce them to the readers? Do you point out the strangeness, or just treat it as normal? The lanterns and lampshades get a thorough workout in the transcript available now in the archives.

  5. In both of those Star Trek examples, the writers use the trick of making the outlandish part a source of pressing conflict. The Enterprise crew doesn’t have time to wonder how these planets got this way; they need to figure out how to deal with it before their people get killed.

  6. Outlandish? The movie Roger Rabbitt comes to mind. Or, the outlandish as a vehicle for humor, as in Dominic Green’s Ant and Cleo series, or Mary Robinette’s excellent book recommendation involving cupcake demons.

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