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Monday, July 14, 2014

Editing with the Elrics: Breaking Your World's Rules ( + FMA Pocket Watch Giveaway!)

Giveaway is now closed.

To go along with my "Editing with the Elrics" writing tip series, I'm giving away a Fullmetal Alchemist pocket watch! You have several opportunities to enter for a chance to win. (You must be a follower/friend to win)

Winner will be selected at the beginning of August. Scroll to the bottom to see more pictures of the pocket watch. And stay tuned for more opportunities to enter.

Breaking Your World's Rules

In one of my college classes, we talked about what constitutes a good fantasy or science fiction novel. One of the qualities is that the story follows its own rules, meaning, if Harry Potter book one states that it's impossible to magic food into existence, Hermione better not create a bowl of stew out of thin air in book five.

The Harry Potter universe has to follow the rules it sets up for its readers. Otherwise, it feels like a continuity error. It doesn't make sense. Or, in other cases, it feels like the rule was broken out of convenience for the plot and as readers we feel cheated. We'll probably question the writer's abilities. The fantasy or science fiction world needs to follow the rules it lays down. . . usually.

There is a right way to break your world's rules, a plotting technique that can kick up the heat of your story, and keep your reader glued to the page.

In Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood the magic system for the world is based on, as you probably guessed, alchemy. An alchemist can break down matter and reassemble it into something else. It's impossible to create a living, functional human being this way.

Or so we think.

But then the protagonists get stuck in a fight with humans who have crazy abilities and can regenerate. We learn that they are "man-made" humans, called "homunculi," who have been brought into existence through alchemy. So the characters are shocked because it's supposed to be impossible to do. Bam! Rule broken.

Now as the audience, we're glued to the show, not only did an impossibility suddenly become possible, but this plot turn opens up a bunch of new questions. How exactly are these man-made humans created? Who created them? Someone who must be powerful. Someone who is an enemy? How are the heroes going to defeat them?

So the plot grows thicker.

This plotting tool is easy to do.
1. Set up your worlds rules
2. Break them.
* In order to break them the right way, make sure your characters are just as surprised as your audience about it. Otherwise, it will feel like a mistake. The break needs attention. Remember, when Ed discovers homunculi can be created through alchemy, he's shocked.

Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood uses this technique in several other areas concerning alchemy in the series. Together, these instances create the feeling that we are on the brink of science. The characters are discovering more and more about what alchemy can do and how to push its limits. It keeps the magic system fresh because there are always more mysteries about alchemy to discover. Even when the story ends, it's suggested that there are plenty more the characters can learn about alchemy.

One thing I loved about this plotting tool in the show is that the protagonists, Ed and Al, start with having a somewhat solid understanding of what alchemy can and can't do, but as the series progresses, these boundaries are shattered over and over again, so that the magic system grows into something a lot more limitless than they imagined. They themselves learn to question the boundaries they've heard of in alchemy, including equivalent exchange, which is one of the most basic foundations of the magic system.

So if you're working speculative fiction, think about how you can set up and break your world's rules to rein in your readers.

Fullmetal Alchemist Pocket Watch


  1. Love FMA and love this article. Thanks so much for sharing!


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