97

In Babylon 5, for example, a character lists famous bombings like "Hiroshima, Dresden, San Diego" with the first items in the list being real and the last being fictional. This dialog technique of casually tying the past into a fictional future seems to be common in franchises with world-building like Star Trek.

Is there a name for the trope where a character specifically lists two real, historical items and then a third fictional one? That always seems to be the pattern.

  • 30
    To clarify, the trope seems to have characters refer to two real items and one fictional one ("Mozart, Beethoven, and Gleepgorp"). Yes, I understand the purpose of it, but just because it has purpose doesn't mean this pattern of dialog isn't a trope. – Wickethewok Aug 26 '18 at 2:44
  • 10
    +1 This question and answer thread gives excellent insight into a core concept of science fiction writing. – JakeGould Aug 26 '18 at 4:52
  • 2
    @user14111 If you're writing a story that takes place in the year 3046, you wouldn't necessarily have to refer to any historical moment from pre-2000. How often does stuff come up in conversation from over a thousand years ago? This is clearly a literary device to help put things into context for the reader. Logically, the speaker in the story likely wouldn't bother referring to any event over a thousand years ago b/c there would be more relevant options that are more recent (in their mind). – Doc Aug 26 '18 at 21:13
  • 10
    @Doc, Jericho, Troy, Sodom, Gomorroh, Pompeii and (erm) Atlantis are all mentioned today as destroyed cities, and all were over 1000 years ago. Once in the public consciousness as a famous example, stays in the public consciousness regardless of time. – gbjbaanb Aug 26 '18 at 23:59
  • 2
    @Doc : When talking about famous conquerors, Alexander the Great and Genghis khan are often on the top of the list even today. When talking about great philosophers, there is always at least one from ancient Greece. – vsz Aug 28 '18 at 6:08
124

TV Tropes calls it "Famous, Famous, Fictional." The trope description does not cite any other name, which means there almost certainly is not another commonly used term for it. (The trope descriptions are generally quite good about citing more traditional terminology for such things.)

  • 36
    It also mentions the Rule of Three: "The first two instances build tension, and the third releases it by incorporating a twist." That's a more general version of the same grouping. – Brythan Aug 26 '18 at 4:09
  • 1
    The quote at the top of the page calls it the "Science Fiction Law of Threes", but that term is not used any more widely than the page title. – Kelly Thomas Aug 26 '18 at 17:26
  • @Brythan: The first mention of something (i.e. the third item in the list) can logically never be a twist, as it's the first time we hear anything about it. For example: [Julius Caesar, Jon Snow, Donald Trump] would suggest a conspiracy that's currently being concocted by White House staffers or politicians. However, [Julius Caesar, Jon Snow, Glorp the Galactic Overlord] doesn't quite work as a twist as we have no knowledge of Glorp before he was mentioned in this list. – Flater Aug 27 '18 at 15:16
  • @Flater: Just because it's fictional doesn't necessarily means it's the first time it's mentioned. The TV Tropes page mentions "Orville Wright, Neil Armstrong, and Zefram Cochrane" where the latter, while fictional, is already well-known in Star Trek lore. – Medinoc Aug 28 '18 at 11:39
  • 1
    The bombings of Hiroshima, Dresden, San Diego example in the OP follows all three patterns real-real-fictional, known-known-unknown, tension-tension-twist. – Timbo Aug 29 '18 at 21:28
1

As described above the trope is "Famous, Famous, Fictional". Incidentally, in the very first sentence of Philip Pullman's novel "La Belle Sauvage" one finds this trope in the form "Fictional, Fictional, Famous":

Three miles up the river Thames from the center of Oxford, some distance from where the great colleges of Jordan, Gabriel, Balliol, ...

Although admittedly this situation is rather different because the two fictional examples have been established previously in the writing, whereas when the trope "Famous, Famous, Fictional" is used, the example corresponding to fictional has generally not been introduced previously.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.