1. Jenissej

    Jenissej Member Supporter

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    Reality is unrealistic

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Jenissej, Jun 13, 2018.

    As the title implies, I'm talking about this trope: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/RealityIsUnrealistic

    Sometimes we find that things we thought were well-known facts are actually misconceptions. And that the reality of something sounds just too unbelievable or is widely regarded as 'fake' or made up. Like a bullet to the shoulder being lethal. (It can be. Seriously.)

    I've stumbled across this a few times already with my current WIP. Some of these things are easily resolved. It doesn't matter if carrots were actually purple until a few hundred years back, just don't mention the color.
    But other things can't be just omitted, like character age. A common misconception about ancient times I've found to be in life expectancy. Average life expectancy around the turn of the eras was about 35 years which leads many people to believe that's how old most folks got back then. In reality, average life expectancy also accounts for child death rates which were insanely high. If one got past childhood, however, they could easily live past 50, 60 or older, depending on where they lived and social status.

    So what to do when the trope hits? Go with the misconception so readers won't get pulled out of the story with a "wait, what?" moment when there's something they didn't expect? Or do the realistic thing and try to weave in an explanation?

    How do you handle these things?
     
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  2. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    For me, this is a no-brainer. Go with what you know to be true. (You can slot in an explanation if you think it's really necessary, but I wouldn't bother most of the time.) You've done your research. You don't want to dumb down your story, do you?

    It is common, especially in historical fiction based on fact, for the author to include an 'author's note' at the end of the story. This can be used to explain any of the anomalies or facts that might surprise people to learn about. It can tell the reader how much research you did, where you found these facts, etc. While this author's note probably won't get read till after the person has read your story itself, it will back up your story choices.

    I would rather be surprised by a 'fact' I didn't know about, or get a misconception corrected than to discover that the author has based their story choices on misconceptions, and perpetuated myths rather than the truth. I want to be able to believe the story, as set and written.
     
  3. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale The Caliph of al-Abama Contributor

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    If you ever get bored, check out one of the many "Plot Holes in WWII" threads that exist on the internet. The link is to The Straight Dope, which is a safe forum AFAIK.
     
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  4. halisme

    halisme Contributor Contributor

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    Please, reality is littered with plot holes. So, in season 793 of the reboot (meaning BC), this viking plot started off in Britain, and it took them literally hundreds of seasons to deal with. They then just drop out of the plot, and come back as the most peace-loving people around? When did that happen? The writers totally forgot their previous characterization.
     
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  5. Jenissej

    Jenissej Member Supporter

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    @jannert I agree, my first instinct would be to do just that. But here's the thing that makes me stop and consider:

    If you don't know an author based their decision on fact and research instead of personal taste, the realistic thing could just be what makes the story unbelievable.
    Like, if I wrote a Viking story where the women had the say-so over the house and finances and could kick their husbands out, claim her property and divorce them if they got unruly? I know enough people that would roll their eyes at such forced politically correct bs.
    Of course I wouldn't want to dumb down my story or include more discrimination than necessary just to feed audience expectations. Still, I feel it's a point to consider.

    What can I say, that thread's hilarious. :supergrin:
     
  6. Wreybies

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm going to play devil's advocate and acknowledge the core source of your consternation:

    The question I would ask myself in the writing of my story would be: How much does this matter to the reason for my story?

    Iain and I were just talking the other day about Baron Friedrich Wilhelm August Heinrich Ferdinand Steuben (herein after, "Freddy"). If you're looking for someone to place on a pedestal as the father of the U.S. Armed Forces as we know them today, look no further. He's your guy. He literally wrote the book on soldiering in America, Regulations for the Order and Discipline of the Troops of the United States, commonly known as the "Blue Book". That book is revered to this day in military circles as a kind of Old Testament, if you will.

    He was also so openly homosexual that he got banished from Germany because of it, France wouldn't take him in, and it was Ben Franklin (then scouting for military leadership) who gave a letter of recommendation to George Washington concerning Freddy because, buggery aside, Freddy was a demigod on the battlefield, and America wasn't really in the best of shape to fight a revolutionary war against the redcoats, so we couldn't afford to be picky.

    The man's military history is incredibly storied and interesting. Like, really interesting. But you'll have a hard time finding biographic information that weaves his personal life into the history we know. If it's mentioned at all, it's begrudgingly annexed at the end as an afterthought to the tune of, "Oh, and he was probably gay and in a thrupple with Benjamin Walker and William North). And it's always only ever probably, despite all the evidence that has managed to survive and filter up to us from the 1700's, which is no mean feat.

    So, here's where the question comes in: If you wanted to write a story about a part of his career, say, the days leading up to the American Revolution, do you correct the missing/occluded facet of the man's history, or do you stick to the battlefield, so to speak? Spoiler alert: I don't have a ready answer for that.

    Being a gay guy myself, there's a part of my brain screaming for a correction, for an undoing of that erasure from history. Yet another gay person in history, far too important to simply delete, therefore straightened-out for convenience, making it impossible for us LGBT+ folk to look back through time and see a history upon which to construct a healthy sense of personal value and worth, continuing the malicious and fallacious narrative that we have never counted, have never been of worth or value to The Grand Story.

    That shit makes me want to set the world on fire.

    But would it be as important to you as it is to me? If you were writing this story, are you interested in writing what is going to turn into a book that probably gets shelved on the LGBT+ shelf, or are you more interested in just the military side of his story?

    I know which story I would write. It would be as historically accurate as a fictionalized rendition could be. There would be some handsome, newly minted American soldier visiting his tent at night, you betcha.

    So, do you side with who he was boning isn't really important to the story of Freddy, or do you side with dude, we're talking the late 1700's, how can his open sexuality not be an important part of the story of this man?

    Again, I don't have a ready answer. It would depend on the kind of story, the focus I was after. And I'm very sure that my answer would be different from the answer of many others.
     
  7. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    I think there's a difference, though, between leaving something out and writing something that's actually untrue. Like, okay, if you're writing a story that's exclusively focused on the military stuff, don't mention Freddy's male lovers, but... at least be sure you're not mentioning FEMALE lovers or other things that would be fully inaccurate. Right? There's a difference between being less-than-encyclopedic and being actively-untrue.

    On the larger note - as a reader and a writer, I want accuracy. I mean, as a writer I may absolutely gloss over details that don't interest me, but I wouldn't ever want to include something that I know is wrong. If Viking women weren't socially powerful, I wouldn't want to read or write about socially powerful Viking women. But I very well might like to read or write about a Viking woman who worked past the barriers in her society and managed to control her own destiny. Because history tends to deal with generalities, and fiction tends to deal with specifics. So one specific Viking woman might not fit in with the generality of her milieu, and that's pretty interesting!
     
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  8. Wreybies

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

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    But we could argue back and forth forever how the simple omission is not any different than an active alteration or addition of untruth. How much of the rest of Freddy's history is incorrect to modern readers because of the omission and the subsequent repair-work needed to cover the hole? How many of his day-to-day interactions and relationships (outside the bedroom) are revised versions of what truly happened? Again, we're talking late 1700's, a man made to leave one country, denied entry by others, and we just suddenly plop him on the American battlefield, shining like a god of war (there's a letter from a soldier where he's literally compared to the god of war Mars).

    And it's the fact that we could spend all day arguing this point, the fact that it's arguable, that's it's not as black and white as that (imo) that makes for the uncertainty, even in my own admission. All I'm saying is that where we each draw the line in the sand is not a fixed concept.

    ETA: To argue it in the other direction: One of the standard examples unsheathed in these conversations is Viking helmets. I know perfectly well that Viking helmets did not have horns. They didn't. That's a modern fantasy. Were I to see some actor sporting horns in the History Channel show Vikings, I wouldn't bat an eye. Who cares. It's aesthetic. It doesn't alter the course of any person's actual story in the show. There are others who would be foaming at the mouth over the inaccuracy.
     
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  9. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    Well, to me, the only interesting thing about Freddy is the non-military stuff, so it's hard for me to imagine not wanting to focus on it. But maybe the test can be the point at which "subsequent repair-work" becomes necessary? I mean, if there's a hole in the story because of not mentioning his sexuality, then that's a problem with the story and I think it should be fixed by mentioning his sexuality, not by making up "repair-work".

    For the Viking stuff? I think I'd prefer to see them without horns, personally. But there is the "Deadwood" element, for sure. The dialogue in that show was absolutely drenched in modern obscenities that are apparently totally anachronistic--the creators said they tried to use period-appropriate swearwords but they had the wrong effect on a modern audience. Back in the day, "Dagnabit" or whatever would have had the same effect as "Fuck" has today; "Dagnabit" to a modern audience elicited giggles.

    So, yeah, I agree that there's variety of opinion and that a lot of fiction writing is about creating "truthiness" rather than truth. But as I said, my preference is to err on the side of actual truth.
     
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  10. Jenissej

    Jenissej Member Supporter

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    @Wreybies
    That's a pretty definite answer, in my eyes. And it should have been obvious to me, as that is also what I tell my students everytime they ask what functions of a software to use and what strategy to adapt to solve a problem. It depends on what one wants to achieve (they probably hate me for it).

    I'm very much of a history person and little known facts I find interesting. And I can get pretty riled up when I see historic inaccuracies that are either obviously to satisfy a biased audience or plain lazy writing. So in your example, if writing about dear ol' Freddy I definitely wouldn't omitt his sexuality. Especially since it seems to be the very cause of him going to the U.S. in the first place. I'm in the c'mon how can this not be important? camp here. If I'd include a sex scene would then again depend on the focus of the story - character or history. And, of course, if I'd want to tackle writing about something so far out of my own experience. ;)

    I think that'd a good enough reason to include his homosexuality in any case. Though imo here it is more a question of is this relevant? than is this believable?

    I probably wasn't clear enough when I typed that example and maybe I'm interpreting a bit too much but here I see a really nice example of what I was getting at.
    Please bear with me here, because this is not supposed to be directed at you personally but at a general mindset.
    What I meant is, Viking women were socially powerful. More so than those in most other European cultures at that time. Only that's not how it's portrayed in modern historic fiction, is it? Women being an oppressed, rightless minority is the status quo when talking about Europe before, well, anything before the 70's maybe? So you'd find the story about a woman overcoming nonexistent barriers more believable than the idea that these barriers didn't exist in the first place.
    Which is not to say there were none, of course. I just find abuse of women to be an easy and often used trope to create conflict and one that can definitely cause a Reality is unrealistic to happen.
     
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  11. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale The Caliph of al-Abama Contributor

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    Sooo, if I had a scene where Freddy was wearing his horny helmet as he rode Ben and Willy into battle...
     
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  12. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    I am super tempted to draw Lin Manuel Miranda's attention to this thread. I think a musical about Freddy would be right up his alley!
     
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  13. Jenissej

    Jenissej Member Supporter

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    ... you'd have to mark it as adults only.
     
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  14. Wreybies

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Haha :-D

    I think that depends on one's point of view. Again, I'm not arguing that my opinion is an absolute. In fact, I'm arguing the opposite. If you happen to be a gay person in 2018, you know full well how empty history seems to be concerning gay people, right up to the point where history starts to mingle with mythology. We have to reach back to ancient Greece and Rome before we feel comfortable acknowledging actual gay people in history.

    If I were to write a story about Freddy, believability would be very much my concern.

    The man who fathered the American Military, an open homosexual? What? Get the fuq out of here with your lefty SJW bullshit. Who's going to buy that story?

    That would be what would be going through my mind.
     
  15. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    Thanks. You've said what I was thinking when I read these posts.
     
  16. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale The Caliph of al-Abama Contributor

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    Sad like ^^
     
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  17. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, I'm one of the ones who would be foaming at the mouth (in a polite fashion) over the historical inaccuracy of horned helmets. Fantasy fine. History no. You should be around when I watch a 50s-era 'cowboy' movie, supposedly set in the 1860s-1880s, and see the men all wearing button (or snap) front shirts that open all the way to the hem. Aaargh.

    However, an omission that doesn't actually influence the story doesn't bother me.

    If a mention of Freddy in a piece of fiction came from the POV of a person who only knew his military history, or maybe was a soldier at the time, then it would be perfectly plausible to me to leave out mention of his sexual orientation. Especially if his sexual orientation was not well known among the soldiers he commanded. We don't necessarily know the sexual orientation or relationship history of all the people we interact with on a daily basis now, do we? Nor is it necessarily relevant to our dealings with them. I would find it harder to ignore this aspect of Freddy's life, however, if the story was primarily about Freddy and/or told from his POV.
     
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2018
  18. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I vote for historical accuracy. Heck, I'd have the white carrots--if carrot color ever became relevant to the narrative. Actually, were carrots commonly eaten, and used in the same ways, before the breeding work that made them orange? I'd look that up.

    If Viking women had rights, they should have rights in the story.

    The life expectancy thing would be really easy for me, because I firmly believe that a large percentage of people know how life expectancy works--enough that when someone gripes at the water cooler (coffeemaker?), someone else will correct them.

    Freddy? I don't think that just accepting and including the established fact that he was gay would put the book on the LGBT+ shelf. Am I wrong? As for whether to include his personal life in detail, what do military biographies usually do? I'd say do that.

    I realize this is all easy for me to say, since I'm not the one experiencing the consequences of the decision to counter reader expectations. But inserting incorrect information in what's supposed to be a real period of history makes no sense to me. That's why my WIP isn't in the real world. :) I have zero use for most of the trappings of fantasy; it's fantasy so I can make culture and customs whatever I darn well please.
     
  19. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    Yeah, I don't know anything about Vikings - that's why I had the if in If Viking women weren't socially powerful. And, no, I don't think I'd find it MORE believable that they overcame non-existent barriers... that's still all part of the if statement. If a writer skillfully portrayed Viking women as powerful, I don't think I'd have any trouble believing it.

    Really, I think you're kind of overthinking things. Maybe worrying too much?
     
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  20. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Or maybe BayView was taking your word for it that the powerful Viking women were unrealistic. I was. If I just came on the concept cold in a novel, and I wondered, I'd grab Google and do some research. (If I cared a lot, I'd grab a library and do some research.)
     
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  21. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    http://www.carrotmuseum.co.uk/history.html :

    "Carrot domestication transformed the relatively small, thin, white, heavily divided (forked or sprangled - spread in different directions) strong flavoured taproot of a plant with annual biennial flowering habit into a large, orange, smooth, good flavoured storage root of a uniformly biennial or “winter” annual crop we know today."

    So it appears that if you want a bulky single-rooted carrot suitable for eating, it's gonna be orange.

    (I know, it was just an example, but if anything relates to vegetable gardening, I'm going to have an opinion. It's like passive voice.)
     
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  22. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    A think its more a question about certain genres or reader expectations. I used to read bodice rippers and they would be meticulously detailed about clothing and war strategies and then they would have feisty women belting men during an era when they probably would have been belted back. Of course the 'gentlemen' never did. To me if your book is going to be relaxed about certain historical facts then why bother mentioning white carrots?
     
  23. Jenissej

    Jenissej Member Supporter

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    Yeah I can see that. Still, whatever the fact in question, if it has any personal relevance to the author I'd say to hell with believability , write what you want to write.

    Goes only to show how highly subjective this whole thing is, I guess. I didn't create this thread to get a precise answer but to see what others make of it :)

    Not at all. This isn't about Vikings and, as I said, this wasn't directed at you personally. I was speaking about the general readiness to believe one thing over another, topics like these in particular. I know, I talked to people who think this way. When I said "you" that was a general you. Should have been more clear here. Please, let's not get riled up on this.

    I wasn't saying that. I was being ironic but I see how it can come off as serious.
     
  24. big soft moose

    big soft moose All killer, no filler. Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Apart from Richard the lionheart and Edward I think the second... The one that died from having a red hot poker shoved up his ass
     
  25. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    Not at all riled - I meant the "overthinking it" in terms of you worrying about things you don't need to worry about. In the modern age, if I read something in a book and it doesn't sound right to me, I can easily google it and find out if there's support for the book's opinion. So if I read a book that presented Viking women as powerful and that didn't sound right, I'd google it and find out if it was right or not. You're bringing in concerns about "forced politically correct bs" and eye-rolling that I don't think you need to have. If people are concerned, they'll look into whatever they're concerned about. If they don't, that's on them, not on you.
     

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