1. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    How much needs to be realistic in fiction?

    Discussion in 'By the Genre' started by Hubardo, Dec 27, 2015.

    I'm not talking about realistic fiction, where it seems 100% of content needs to be realistic. It's a general question I'm posing here because I think responses will be interesting and illuminating.

    It seems to depend on genre, but even within the most speculative genres there must be some believability.

    Fantasy -- create non-existent creatures (unrealistic) which follow particular rules within story (realistic in context)

    Sci-fi -- create space aliens and technologies which do not and may never exist (unrealistic) as long as, like fantasy, you follow your own in-house rules (realistic)

    Magical Realism -- my only real (heh) experience with this is Murakami, whose blood is obviously laced with LSD. These stories seem to be mostly realistic then there are mythologically or culturally or randomly inserted bits of supernaturalism or nonsense to accentuate something within the realistic-ness.

    When I think of Sherlock Holmes, I think of somebody who lives in a realistic universe whose deductive abilities are believably realistic although, oftentimes, at least based on the modern show with the 1.5 hour episodes, the stuff he infers from people's clothing and accessories is complete bollocks.

    I wonder if there is some general formula for this. There probably isn't but let's entertain the dialectic for fun:

    Realistic <----------------------------------------------> Unrealistic

    All the way on the left is realistic fiction. All the way on the right there is no such thing; there are no stories where there is no gravity, everything has 50 eyes, the languages spoken are inconsistent, the buildings are made of materials that don't exist within that universe. So there must be some optimal balance. What is it?
     
    Last edited: Dec 27, 2015
  2. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    You should find some insight in Dwight V. Swain's Techniques of the Selling Writer, Chapter 7, The People in Your Story. What applies to characters also applies to environments and, to a greater or lesser degree, to events.

    I have to disagree with you (slightly, anyway) on writing science fiction. If you don't believe aliens exist, you'll never convince a reader to suspend disbelief regarding your aliens... if indeed you write about them. :)
     
  3. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    While I do believe somewhere in the vast Universe there are other planets with life, why do you need to believe the ones you write about exist? Does the fantasy writer need to believe in dragons and vampires?
     
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  4. psychotick
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    psychotick Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hi,

    I think there's two terms being mixed up here. Realism and believability. I don't think any genre needs to be realistic - as in true to life. But no matter how unreal they are they have to be believable. That means the rules have to be consistent and everything based on those rules like character's emotions and plots and even world build, has to be consistent with those rules.

    To give an example, I just watched the Powers tv series - which was actually quite reasonable. But it has one glaringly horrible plot hole. For those who haven't seen it the antihero decides he wants to save a lot of people by killing his former mentor. He can teleport. And jump away with someone's head.

    The only problem he has and one which necessitates a complex plot and climactic two episode conclusion, is that his target is in a prison with a device over his head that robs people of their powers. So he goes to all this amazing effort with the MC etc to kill the big bad simply so that he doesn't end up stuck in a prison cell having teleported in and shot the dude and then found himself powerless.

    Of course this man is supposed to be clever. He already plans of jumping in to the cell with a gun. How bloody hard would it be for him to wear a mask, shoot the really bad guy, shoot the device, and then jump away?!

    It's so damned obvious that it makes it seem unbelievable that he couldn't think of it. As someone who quite enjoyed the show I can accept that realism or lack of realism of the show, but not something as unbelivable as that sort of stupidity.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  5. Sack-a-Doo!
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    Sack-a-Doo! Contributing Member Contributor

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    You mean they don't??
     
  6. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Characters reactions need to be realistic in order to make their world believable. Part of the reason the Willy Wonka's Chocolate factory is believable is because we're experiencing the awe of the tourists and the enthusiasm and pride of Willy Wonka. They believe it so why should we second guess.

    You don't need realism per se for your world. But the nerds are on top of things for sci-fi which means you either have to do some research or make a good excuse ( a believable excuse ) as to why things are that way in your world.
    The only things that need to be realistic is how your characters behave. It's easier to take sloppy character reactions in a realistic story as the character just becomes dull or the story boring but in a fantasy it's jarring. It doesn't make sense. I.E. if your character is showing utter boredom killing a dragon - you need some backstory or build up to show the reader that in this world killing a dragon is as easy as killing a deer in our world. But if the proper steps aren't taken the reader is caught by the word dragon - fierce, dangerous, and can't understand why you're mc isn't scared. If you're going to change elements and meanings there needs to be a foundation to prove why your characters reactions are realistic. For your world.
     
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  7. Wolfmaster1234
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    Wolfmaster1234 Member

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    The only thing that has to be absolutely believable in fiction is the characters. I'm not talking about making them physical human, aliens are fine, you need to make they way the behave believable otherwise it is difficult for the reader to associated and emphasise with the characters which is gravely important to the vast majority of fiction.
     
  8. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think you can really evaluate this in a vacuum - the rest of your story matters, too. If everything else is totally engrossing and exciting, my willing suspension of disbelief will be much higher than if everything else is boring and/or annoying. If I like a character enough, I'll believe in him or her, even through unbelievable events.

    I'm thinking of, for example, the Indiana Jones movie franchise. Indie's essentially a comic book hero, but when I'm enjoying the movies, I don't worry too much about it. When I'm not enjoying the movies, I pick at the details. Like in the first one, when the Ark of the Covenant is opened and all the Nazis' faces melt just because they looked at it? That's obviously pretty extreme, especially considering that all the heroes had to do to protect themselves was look away. But the rest of the movie was so much fun that I didn't care. But then by the later one, when things were dragging and the fun was gone, and Indie protects himself from a nuclear blast inside a refrigerator? Yeah, that one made everyone roll their eyes. Willing suspension of disbelief was gone because the filmmakers hadn't built up enough credit with the audience beforehand.

    I think novels are the same. You can get away with more if you're giving more. So any sort of independent scale will be pretty hard to come up with.
     

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