In “The Falsification Mindset: How to Change Your Own Mind,” Mike Sturm explains why a belief system or theory should state “what specific evidence would prove it wrong.” For one thing, as proposed by Karl Popper, the theory isn’t scientific unless you do this. It’s also a useful exercise for making good life choices, even if you’re not a scientist. Contemplating the conditions under which you’d admit your own wrongness, Sturm writes, makes you explicitly state what you believe, realize that you could be mistaken, and commit to changing your mind if you’re proven wrong. This can spare you from making big mistakes.
I wonder how writers might use this insight in fiction. A fictional story as a whole, of course, is false. Still, the details of the story need to hang together consistently, and the insertion of certain details can spoil the story by introducing inconsistencies into its narrative. Other details may interfere with the insight or moral that the writer is trying to convey. Still other details may make the story seem implausible, absurdist, or nonsensical.
It may be wise for a novelist to divine ahead of time at least some of the words that simply will not work out within their tale. I don’t know what this process would be called. “Falsificationism” isn’t right, because the wrong details don’t falsify the fiction; the fiction is already false. “Parasitism” may be closer, because a wrong detail is like an invading organism that drains energy from the story. The writer or any given reader may be unaware of the parasite. Regardless of whether anyone notices it consciously, the parasite can injure or even kill the story. It may be a valuable exercise, therefore, for a writer to list the potential parasites that could threaten their story.
Image: Live Tetragnatha montana parasitized by Acrodactyla quadrisculpta larva. Digitally altered, based on a photo that appeared in Biodiversity Data Journal in 2013 and is available on Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons 3.0 license).