Fiction Physics (remember, the F in Physics is for fun!) by Catharine Bramkamp

CB post imageLet’s welcome back monthly columnist Catharine Bramkamp as she shares with us about “Fiction Physics (remember, the F in Physics is for fun!)”. Enjoy!


I work with an engineer on the show – someone devoted to reality as much as he’s devoted to fantasy. Interestingly my son is a Geo-Physicist and is equally passionate about fantasy and science fiction. Which should be a lesson to writers: even brilliant people read to be transported to far away lands. Remember that you are writing for brilliant readers, some even more brilliant than you.

Don’t let them down. And don’t screw around.

Get your fiction physics right.

In my family, we call it movie physics. You may have another name – suspension of disbelief comes to mind. In movie physics a person can talk in space, walk away unscathed from an exploding car, and shatter through a window without a scratch. In movie physics the seconds ticking down on the bomb are much, much longer than they would be in real life.

And as an audience, we don’t mind at all.

As long as the work and the show is consistent.

I consider plot and story part of that thin, fragile, elderly suspension bridge of disbelief. Reality has nothing to do with it,however, consistently within your inconsistent world does.
Think of the underwater fires in the SpongeBob cartoon episodes, a parody of movie physics. We know you can’t light a fire underwater, that’s the fun and the parody of it.

Sometimes authors strive mighty to make everything and everyone in their books, realistic. It all should happen. It’s all TRUE. The character should be real. This kind of determination leads to tedious scenes describing how the character prepares for work: she showers, she dresses in her favorite dress that she bought on sale at Ross in 2014 which was the same year she had sworn off men altogether except for Tony. Ah Tony, she reminisced as she walked across the beige carpet to fetch her coffee from the elaborate espresso machine her mother gave her for Christmas last year.

You are already dying to build your underwater campfire aren’t you?

By the way, the above snippet is also what happens when the admonishment show don’t tell, is taken to unfortunate extremes.

Books, novels, films, commercials, cartoons. None of them are real. Real is boring. Real is earnest. We got real thank you. We read to be entertain, we write to create a mythical world that ultimately expresses the real world, or a real situation, but in an analogous or metaphorical way. There is nothing remotely real about it.

But there are rules within that unreal world.

If you enter a world through a wardrobe. That’s the way you exit.

If you light a fire underwater – you can always light a fire underwater, no fair changing the rule.

The hero walks away from the burning car, the villain does not.

Once you embrace the idea of Fiction Physics, you are free to take great big (interesting) leaps in your work. It’s your story – go ahead an include talking bears and fast freezing lakes. The leaps, the exaggerations are what makes your work memorable, readable, and popular.

We already live in real life, The job of the writer is to take us somewhere else. And if we travel there through a time portal, be fairly clear about how that works so you can do it again in the second book.



Catharine Bramkamp, author

Catharine Bramkamp is the co-producer of Newbie Writers Podcast that focuses on newer writers and their concerns. She is a successful writing coach, Chief Storytelling Officer, and author of a dozen books including the Real Estate Diva Mysteries series, and The Future Girls series. She holds two degrees in English, and is an adjunct university professor. After fracturing her wrist, she has figured out there is very little she is able to do with one hand tied behind her back.

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