Do You Have to Know Why?

Okay, so I may be the last person on the planet watching FIREFLY (thank you, Netflix!), and while I'm really enjoying it, sometimes I find myself wondering, Why?

Why do they wear clothes that look like they came from the Old West?

Why do they speak Chinese?

Why did the space ship slow down in space in that episode when that part went out? I mean, there's no friction or anything. Space is a vacuum, right?

Why, why, why?

Why? is the universal question that children speak from a very early age. As humans, we have an obsession with why. Who hasn't questioned why a store has a certain policy? Or why their boss wants them to now fill out three forms instead of the one that seems to be working just fine? Or why can you only drive 75 in Montana? I mean, seriously.

We all ask why, over any number of things.

In science fiction, I'm wondering how important it is to know why. Does it really matter? Do I have to understand the fashion industry in FIREFLY to enjoy the show? No. Do I need the whole history of language and how it evolved in their world to get what's going on? Not really.

So, for me, I think of science fiction as a genre where I don't have to know everything. There are some things readers DO need to know about the world in order to suspend the rest of their disbelief. The fine line is finding that as an author.

Another fine line comes as a reader. When I find myself leaning toward the "Why?" side, I ask myself instead, "Do I have to know why in order to enjoy this?"

If the answer is no, I keep reading--and just enjoy it.

How about you? Are you obsessed with why?


Sophia Chang said...

All I gotta say is:

Honey, that is NOT Chinese.


Ghiest said...

It's Mandarin, and that's what Chinese speak (mostly) and was because of the last major war on earth that China (well the Asian states at the time comprising of mostly Chinese) won, hence it becoming the major language.

Diva Schuyler said...

Though I love a good backstory, I can tolerate a lot of "whys." An explanation of every unfamiliar place, technology, or type of character in sci-fi or dystopian fiction would ruin the feeling of "this is another world" that I love so much. I love inhabiting other worlds and times in books, so I don't demand that authors tell me the reason behind every mystery. A sense of strange is a good thing!

Matthew MacNish said...

As a writer I'm a bit obsessed with why. Okay, maybe not obsessed, but I do put in a lot of extra effort to make sure that things make sense, even when writing from a fantasy, paranormal or sci-fi perspective.

As a reader, I don't care as much. A great story can have any set of rules it wants, really, as far as I'm concerned.

Anonymous said...

Yeah...I ask why a lot. Which is odd, 'cause when I started writing an urban fantasy with vampires I had to account for the fact that they existed at all, so I ended up going back in my head and trying to figure out how they came into being in the first place and then I had to figure out why (since he was involved) the devil exists, which led me to question the metaphysical underpinnings of the universe andalong the way I discovered the Theory of Everything, but after a night's celebration involving a fifth of vodka and a group of Carnies, I discovered the next morning that I'd forgotten crucial bits of the theory, and now I'll never remember them and get the Nobel Prize, which is sad.


So, um, yes. I ask why a lot. Sometimes it's better just to enjoy the show, though.


Trisha Wolfe said...

I <3 Firefly. Joss is a genius. I try not to let the 'why' get in the way of a great story. But I'm pretty tough on myself as a writer. Great post! Made my day this morning to read =)

Jodi Meadows said...

I ask why a lot. I'm a curious person, and I like to know the author has a solid foundation. Too many whys *can* affect my enjoyment of the show/movie/book/whatever, even if the existence of a question isn't important to the plot of this story.

If I think the author knows the answer, I don't mind if they don't tell me. That is, if everything surrounding my question supports the idea they know and have it all worked out, and just this one thing isn't important for me to know. Then I can look past it.

Anne said...

I remember the "Why?" game from when I was a kid! My parents hated me, I used to ask "Why?" for everything. I think part of the reason I've become a writer, even if I never get published, is because I couldn't stop asking "Why?" But people get fed up with that, so instead of actually asking, I just ask myself and make up the answers.

It's true though as a reader, there are only certain "Why"s that are necessary for me. Unless it's something I really fall in love with, I'm happy just enjoying the reasons I'm given.

Elana Johnson said...

Sophia -- I had no idea!

Ghiest -- does it tell you that? Or would I have had to like Google or something. Either way, now I know!

Joshua McCune said...

In more serious sci-fi'why' or the hint of 'why' is crucial. Don't break/ignore the laws of physics for convenience.

In something tongue and cheek like Firefly or something where you've got so much stuff going on otherwise (e.g., Star Wars) as to be distracting, it's okay for things to fall by the whyside. *groan*

Amie McCracken said...

If the story is good enough I better not ask why, I better be sucked in enough to not be thinking about anything else. Usually if I have to ask why, I've fallen out of the story and it's not believable anymore.

No, they don't have to answer all questions. But I shouldn't have a chance to stop and think why.

Tere Kirkland said...

What Jodi said. (Up late last night so I has no higher brain functions today)

Hope your traveling goes well! See you Saturday?

Krispy said...

It's okay! I totally haven't seen Firefly either, even though my friends insist it's something I'll like (which is very likely). :P

I do ask why, but I don't usually get stuck on them unless there's something really weird about it. Like there's usual some kind of logic behind it, but if that logic is shoddy or on a too unbelievable line, I'll ask more questions. But yeah, usually, if I like something, I'm good at total suspension of disbelief (and then wondering about it later).

Perry Wilson said...

Great post. When I start wondering the great why,I change the question to why am I asking. Often it's because the writer has not engaged me enough in the story to let me just go along on the ride.

Anonymous said...

It is sometimes good to leave the whys up to the imagination of audience it gets the audience personally involved in the story.