Anything can happen in narrative… as long as it makes sense in the narrative. If you can’t justify it, it can’t happen. Read on to find out more…

What is JUSTIFICATION in narrative?

In narratives, people fly, use mind control, encounter ghosts, use magic, survive plane crashes, travel through the galaxy, time travel, and so on.

Sometimes these things don’t make sense and the audience hates it, the writer feels disappointed, the roleplaying gamers argue about “game balance,” etcetera. The logic of the story is destroyed and the whole facade crumbles revealing the sham of a narrative underneath. It’s horrible when one thing overlooked destroys what could otherwise be an awesome narrative.

In other cases, the most outrageous things are accepted by audiences, because writers have managed to justify the “reality” of events or actions or the existence of objects, be they magic rings or flashlights used as swords. These things seem “real” despite the fact that they are complete fiction.

This page is dedicated to the exploration of justification. Have a look; we hope it helps!

Ways to Justify Stuff

Here are some fictional pieces that you can explore as explanations for why a character can suddenly fly or why the Earth will split in two in a few hours…

  • genetics, genetic modification, DNA tampering, biology, gene splicing, breeding, GMO consumption, accidental genetic transfer, genetic mutation,
  • mutations, radioactive side effects, radiation, nuclear fallout,
  • medicinal side effects, mind-altering drugs, hallucinogenics, anti-psychotics, lobotomy, invasive neurosurgery,
  • brain trauma,
  • magic, fey lines, lines of forces, mana,
  • potions, poisons, elixirs, concoctions, tonics, brews,
  • science, advanced intelligence, alien technology,
  • chemistry, molecular chemistry,
  • subatomic particles,
  • new elements, alloys, metals, compounds,
  • side effects, the small print,
  • advanced alien technology, science,
  • contamination, infection, defilement,
  • alien compounds, compositions, minerals, elements,
  • government experiments, secret laboratories,
  • divine intervention, interference, influence,
  • prayer, meditation, connectedness, at-one-with “whatever”, oneness, mindfulness,
  • engineering, mechanics, physics,
  • computer science, implants,
  • psionics, untapped mind potential,
  • negative space, anti-matter,
  • alternate universes, parallel world,
  • weapons technology, design, chemistry,
  • speed of light tech,
  • miracles,
  • possession, supernatural infection,
  • timing, bad timing, lucky timing,
  • coincidence (careful with this… it needs to be believable or many will consider it a cheap justification)
  • parasitic invasion, infestation,
  • world energies: solstice, equinox, tides, magma, the core, mother nature, eclipses,
  • celestial bodies, the big bang, black holes, gravitational pull,
  • luck, beginner’s luck,
  • tough luck, bad luck,
  • blessing, curse, hex, the evil eye,
  • superstition, beliefs,
  • objects imbued with great power: relics, artifacts,
  • tradition, custom, ritual,
  • ancient rites, rituals, practice,
  • training, practice, study,
  • forces greater than ourselves: life energy, divinity, the supernatural, magical energies, evil,
  • effects of space travel, deep-sea exploration,

Notes and Ideas

  • To justify character actions, make sure you ground them in some explanation, implied or stated, at some point. Look at the pages on backstory and motivation for some good ideas on how to build this in to your project.
  • Tying things in your narrative to forces greater than ourselves seems to be acceptable to audiences, whether it’s technology, magic, or some overarching power. Having characters unable to fully grasp the power they grapple with also seems to justify the existence of such power. Have a look at the FORCES concept menu here for ideas.
  • Justifying science does not require a degree in astrophysics (though that can’t hurt). You can do a number of things from making up new scientific compounds or creating some new technology by throwing the word “-drive” at the end (if you need to blast through space, invent a “blastdrive”). Just make sure you add a character who is an engineer or operator or scientist who knows what they’re talking about in the context of your narrative world.
  • If you are unsure about things, look them up. There is no shortage of reference materials out there both online and in print form. Check out a library or do some internet source reading if you need to find out if something is possible or likely for your narrative reality.
  • Whatever reality you create in your narrative, the number one rule is don’t contradict your own narrative reality.