1. Ratty
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    Ratty New Member

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    Do unrealistic elements of a story ruin it for you?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Ratty, Apr 15, 2011.

    At the moment, I'm writing a story that is somewhat unrealistic and implausible.

    Okay, it's certainly unrealistic and reeks "implausible plot line" from about Chapter 14.

    During one intense scene in my novel, my characters are persuaded to agree to something I don't think anyone would rationally do, much less these guys simply because the character who wants them to do the favour manages to relate to them. She says how unfair the system is, rants a bit and ask her to do something which is almost certainly impossible.

    Firstly, are there any other things I could bring up to realistically persuade my characters to do something really, really stupid?

    And secondly, how are you able to limit unrealistic aspects of your stories and do you try hard to do so?

    Thank you! :)
     
  2. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's a big difference between realistic and plausible.

    Should a story be realistic? Not necessarily. Most stories are not. I'm actually having a hard time thinking of one that is.

    Should a story be plausible? Absolutely. What does that mean? It means that it should remain true to its own logics, and that all characters should have some kind of psychological structure of their own -- and then it means a whole lot more, but these two things seem to be what you're struggling with right now, and your post indicates that you're well aware of it, too.
     
  3. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not always if it moves the story forward but then I tend to look at it as fiction. So only if I am dragged out of the story.
     
  4. Ophiucha
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    Ophiucha Member

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    If the story is attempting to portray itself in a realistic fashion, then yes. It is not succeeding in what it is trying to do, and has hence failed. If, however, it makes no attempt at realism, then I would not dismiss it on that alone.
     
  5. Enerzeal
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    Enerzeal Member

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    When I watched the first episode of fringe where they started going into other peoples dreams I was a little to wierded out by the whole business, they opted for something pretty far out right off the bat, which should of set the tone but the realism they had employed up until that point made the sudden jump seem rather stupid.

    Now inception deals with going into dreams from the very start, they had set the scene right off the bat so further dream related business was not an issue.

    Implausible generally means not within the realms of possibility, "I can make a human fly without any drugs or machines!" Implausible. Or "I've created AI that is truly self aware!" plausible. Inception took an idea that was implausible for me personally and ran with it from the start, so I suspended that belief and went with the movie, which I still scratch my head over, but enjoyed anyway.

    If its unrealistic from a character personality base that might be more dangerous as people have, up until that point developed their own opinion of that character and possibly become attached.
     
  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    I think what you have to do is give the reader a reason to suspend their disbelief. We see this in fiction all the time, with stories using everything from unexplained scientific phenomena to aliens to dream sequences to that good ol' stand-by, magic to get us to accept what our logic and experience tell us is not possible. The key is to make it plausible.

    If in reading over your story you find yourself thinking, "No one is ever going to believe this!" then you haven't made it plausible enough. If you have your characters agreeing to "do something that no one would rationally do", then you have to either give them a reason for being irrational (mental illness, stress, undue influence of a malefactor) or else create circumstances for the characters in which it is logical for them to believe that they have no other choice (e.g. threat to a loved one).

    Hope this helps.
     
  7. Cthulhu
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    Cthulhu Member

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    In the past I've come to places where to keep the story moving forward I need the characters to make an inane logical jump, what I did to moderate it was have one character propose it and the other characters be just as skeptical as the reader. Because I find it's not improbable events that pull me out of the story, It's the characters acting like nothings out of the ordinary during them [Unless of course they are nothing out of the ordinary for the characters.]
     
  8. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I don't think realism is an issue. But you need internal consistency and plausibility. If you have characters making decisions or doing things that no reasonable person would ever do, then you need to have some reason behind it (e.g. they're insane, stupid, under duress, or they know something the average reasonable person doesn't, etc.).
     
  9. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you want someone to emotionality invest into a character, to relate and sympathies then doing something totally out of character just to push the plot would be a deal breaker for a whole lot of reader.
    Many readers doesn't mind if the plot or the setup is a bit stretched. Very few readers would put down a book or even mind if a unlikely meeting happened by chance. But for most readers it really important that the character feel real, but wont buy it if a character don't make sense.

    So if you think it really unlikely and unrealistic for the character to take that action, trust you instincts.

    One way to solve the problem could be to provide the character with incorrect information, and let them take an action that do make a lot of sense according to the false information, instead.
     
  10. bekajoi
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    bekajoi Senior Member

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    I'm usually willing to hang in there and wait for an explanation... but if there isn't one at the end, at the very least, I am not thrilled.

    I don't mind it as much with fantasy type things, but even in Sci-Fi, if you are going to write it, at least have some reason behind it. Well, that doesn't usually work, but guy X was able to figure out a hack to get around the laws of physics... that sort of thing. Could be a quick nod to the character ages ago who cracked the code, by MC, etc.

    I try and go with "if this was real, this is how I see it happening" and try to write that. I expect the same of the work I read, because, well, those people have had more experience and actually got picked up by somebody.

    Sparkling vampires can kiss my ass. That is all.

    (Oh look! This was post #100 for me... yay me! :p)
     
  11. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah. Without a plausible explanation for that sort of thing, you aren't really writing science fiction. Some assume that if it takes place in the future or in space, it has to be science fiction.
     
  12. Jonp
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    Jonp Senior Member

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    In terms of storyline I'd say it's fine as long as it makes sense in the context and logic of the plot, you don't come up with new things half way through which contradict them and you don't use them as an easy way out.

    In terms of character if they make a decision which is either unlikely or out-of-character, I'd say you need to give some sort of reasoning for it, or go back a twist a few things to make it make more sense.
     
  13. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    Unrealistic elements definitely ruin a novel for me. But I dislike read fantasy/sci-fi and I only read certain types of horror, so my opinion's probably invalid? :p There are only a few (think: 3~4) authors I'll read work by who use unrealistic elements in their work, and that's because they've utilised them in a way that feels plausible.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    for sure!... often to the point where i'll toss it, rather than go on reading nonsense...
     
  15. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Even with fantasy it needs to make some sort of sense or have a context - even if some suspension of disbelief is called for there needs to somewhere to hang your disbelief whilst you read.
     
  16. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, it needs an internal logic even if the story isn't "realistic."
     
  17. Smoke
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    Smoke Contributing Member

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    Just because you wouldn't do something doesn't mean your characters wouldn't.

    They could just be thinking with the wrong head.

    Have you heard of the Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures? If you could get your convincer to have them agree with her on small things, the momentum could have them agreeing to the hugely stupid thing before they realize it. Of course, it only works if they're true to their word, or just don't think about how stupid it is.
     
  18. Silver_Dragon
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    Silver_Dragon Senior Member

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    I read a lot of fantasy, so I don't expect "realism." In fact, some of the fantasy stories I like are dreamlike in quality, and I appreciate the creativity there.

    I don't like inconsistencies in the plot or character motivations. That's one of the issues that I had with an otherwise enjoyable fantasy series which I am currently reading. As others have pointed out, you can change the situation in order to make a seemingly illogical choice seem necessary...for example, if your characters are desperate enough to try something that seems impossible.
     
  19. Spring Gem
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    Spring Gem Member

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    The world is full of unscrupulous people who take advantage of other people's gullibility, naivety, kindness, etc. I've heard the expression "he could talk an Eskimo into buying a freezer in the middle of winter." If you play up the fact that the person doing the persuading is a con and manipulator, you can make almost anything work. You can foreshadow the manipulation in earlier scenes with smaller actions and build up to the push into making the major decision.

    Hope this helps.
     
  20. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    I guess it would depend on just how unreasonable within the logic of the story the action they are being persuaded to agree to is. My thought is that yes, if it was something truly unreasonable from the character's perspective, then yes it would mar the book for me. If Han Solo suddenly decided he wanted to donate all his wealth to charity, that sort of thing.

    So the thing is if you think they wouldn't agree to it, you then have the task of finding a reason that they would.

    But I'd agree with the others, if its unreasonable from the perspective of the characters, that can lead to a jarring in the book. But it doesn't have to be so important if its unreasonable from the perspective of the reader. Readers will allow the protagonists to do a lot of things they wouldn't do as long as they can find a reason for it. Its only when it crosses some uncrossible psychological / emotional line for them that it will stop them reading.

    Also yes Stanley Milgrim's classic experiments, absolutely horrible, should never have been given ethical approval, and are absolutely shocking. No one would want to believe they could do what those poor test subjects did, or thought they did, and yet the study has been repeated time and again with different spins, and the results keep coming back the same. People respond to authority, and a shocking number of them will do terrible things in its name.

    Cheers.
     
  21. Cthulhu
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    Cthulhu Member

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    To my knowledge there's 'ethical approval' board checking the ethics of experiments.
    I feel compelled to point out that I found the results of these experimens destresingly predictable.
    I also wish to point out that these experiments helped our understanding of the human mind and several horrific events of the past, making them beneficial.
     
  22. Rachael1918
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    Rachael1918 New Member

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    It's important for me that everything follows an internal logic, yes. Without the sense that the characters actions make sense in consideration of what has happened (or may have happened to them) beforehand, a story just can't be credible for me. There needs to be some sort of logic/background to everything that goes on.

    I'm having trouble with that in one particular project, though, where I am writing in the first person as my MC, who is writing scattered anecdotes about her early life, constantly flitting between time periods - keeping that consistent and remembering the history I have established elsewhere in the project can be confusing as I'm doing everything out-of-order!
     
  23. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi Cthulhu,

    Yes they did get ethics approval and so too do all the reincarnations of them, and there are literally hundreds if not thousands of them. That doesn't mean that they aren't completely abhorrent. I mean put yourself in the shoes of one of the participants, the poor fool who's just (he thinks) electrocuted a subject to death, and the stooges were actors, they screamed when the light came on so the poor sod really believed he was hurting them when he pushed the button. So for a while the poor sod had to believe he'd just killed someone on the basis of what a man in a white coat told him to do. That must have hurt. Then after its all over and he finds out it was all a trick, he's then got to live with the knowledge that he is the sort of person who would do that. Not something that makes for comfortable memories and self introspection. I wonder if anyone has ever done a study on what the long term outcomes were for the participants.

    And yes, they did shed some important light on human psychology, especially in the wake of WWII and the Authoritarian Personality Study. But is that enough to justify them continuing?

    As you say they've been repeated enough so that the results are always predictable now.

    Cheers.
     
  24. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    From the impression I got from the OP, the characters do something that's unlikely for them. We're talking about an out-of-character stretch, not a making-man-fly stretch.

    With this in mind, it really depends on what it is that they do, and why they do it. Also, why is it a stretch for them? People do things they wouldn't normally do all the time. Sometimes they're with someone who influences them, other times they want to prove themselves, other times they're overtaken by anger/excitement/ego, etc.
     
  25. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    People do stupid things when they're desperate. E.g, someone really needs money, and falls for a get-rich-quick-scheme. Someone is dying, and falls for a fraudulent "cure".
     

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