Consider this: You’re writing a sci fi story. It’s set in a world of your own making in a time far removed from the present. You’ve built the physical environment, engineered the societies occupying it, and crafted the characters born from it. Your protagonist wakes up one morning and puts together breakfast. Does he make himself a cup of coffee? Pour a glass of orange juice? Or fry up some taorkiki and top it with whipped henuvia?
In this made-up world of yours, does its denizens enjoy the morning ritual of coffee? Do oranges even exist? Maybe your protagonist doesn’t need to eat breakfast but rather injects himself with a nutrient serum.
When writing spec-fic, it can be easy to focus so much on creating the big-picture aspects of the setting that the everyday details are forgotten—until you’re facing your hungry protagonist in the morning with nothing to eat. And you can feed him only once you determine how much of your made-up world should be made up.
It seems unreasonable to imagine every last detail of your setting. Sure, your world can sport a few unique fruits and a sense of fashion all its own, but you don’t have to rebuild the entire kingdom of plantae or redesign the concept of clothing. There’s no need to reinvent every wheel. Because if you do, you’ll not only weigh down your story explaining every last detail, including your protagonist’s breakfast, but you’ll also overwhelm your readers.
Incorporating real-world details into your spec-fic setting can help ground your work. Readers will grab on to the familiar elements in an unfamiliar world and use what they know to help imagine and understand what they don’t know. Real-world details also provide a moment’s break for readers; they don’t have to work to imagine what a cup of coffee is like because they already know.
Don’t be afraid to use things from the real world in your spec-fic. You’re no less creative or imaginative for having a protagonist drink coffee for breakfast than having one who injects himself with his day’s nutrients. Your readers will appreciate the sliver of normalcy, and the almost mundane qualities of reality in the fantastic will make your spec-fic more approachable and, most important, more believable. So start brewing that coffee.