A Tutorial on Creative Mechanics


What makes your world tick? You think you have a never before seen concept, a piece of equipment, a vehicle or magical construct of your own design.  What makes it stand out to the reader from many other creations? How does it work?

These are a few of the questions I always ask myself when designing elements for my works.  While the cliché of ‘it’s magic’ is perfectly acceptable, it’s the mechanics behind the concept that really emphasizes your core concept giving it an extra dimension that can really stand out and hopefully stick with the reader.

The theory of creative mechanics is quite simple; it’s an amalgamation of logic and current technology mixed with elements of the unknown, which introduces the magical aspect.  This concept can be applied to any discipline of creative writing, from historical based fantasy to science fiction, and even alternate realities based on modern life as we know it.  It can be easily divided into four elements:

• The concept
• The research
• The technology
• The descriptive

The concept is the starting idea; for example this could be a historical tall ship or a modern weapon or even a species.  Your concept starts with this core idea and having defined your idea it can be moulded into your setting.  Here is an example I came up with:

‘A post-modern era, barely a century into the future, vampires walk the earth once more, lurking within the shadows seeking the blood of the living.’

So I have a modern day vampire.  Should I have it as an ancient evil; a bloodline that has survived through the ages? Or perhaps an evolution of some sort; a virus that has been spread to humans that simulate the stereotypical vampire? Or they could possibly be a result of genetic experiments by some unscrupulous organisation?

Next comes the research.  Modern day vampires have been done before many times, but how do you make it stand out to the reader? By researching the mythology and the available technology of the time you are writing in, you can begin to break down the concept and decide how to fit it into your world.  For example studying other texts, both fictional and non-fictional, you can see how other writers have implemented the concept into their worlds.  Looking at the aforementioned myth aspect, you can refine the idea using folklore for inspiration.

Now you can look at the technology aspect.  Depending on your timeline, it’s theoretically acceptable to implement any kind of scientific aspect to your works. A good example of this is the concept of Steampunk, which combines more modern elements consistent in a Victorian setting.  By comparing your era to your concept, you can begin to fit the pieces together.  How you integrate the technological aspect is dependent on how you can justify it within its setting.

The descriptive explains how your chosen concept works.  The example below shows not only a concept, but an unnerving possibility that it could easily exist in modern times.  This takes the idea and combines it with your research, technology and the resulting theory behind it.  It is what offers the meat to the bones of your idea, and shows its depth to the reader.  This will create greater impact than justifying its existence as being magical without giving it an explanation.

‘The Company in the early days started its life as a research lab; analysing the DNA of mammals and reptilians. However the board was never satisfied with simple analysis, and slowly the attention of their research turned to more questionable areas. Genetic manipulation, and hybridisation.

Their plans to create a breed of humans naturally resistant to disease came at a terrible cost…’

This is one example of creative mechanics in action.  It can be applied to any concept you wish, even applying a modern concept to a more historical setting, such as a medieval style of tank in the middle ages, providing the core concept and available technologies are weighed up.  However, I would recommend trying to keep the technology as realistic to the respective era as possible.  There is a fine line between unique and inspired to absurd. The possibilities of creation are endless!

© Mark Harper, 2015.

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