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March 29th, 2004, 12:55 AM
How important is realism to a story? And what is it, do you think, that allows a reader who would otherwise balk, hold in his or her criticism and "go with the story."

In my opinion, with every story readers have to suspend some element of analytical thinking in order to enjoy it. But how do we as authors talk them into this?

Case in point: the girlfriend and I rented Gothika this weekend. Even though there were a number of points during the movie where I stopped myself and thought, hold on, this wouldn't happen this way in real life, I still ended up thinking it was an okay movie.

Any thoughts?

March 29th, 2004, 05:50 AM
Originally posted by choppy
How important is realism to a story? And what is it, do you think, that allows a reader who would otherwise balk, hold in his or her criticism and "go with the story."

I think that so long as you have internal consistency and at least a decent grasp on human nature, you'll do alright. My biggest problem with some novels is that their characters don't act human. It's like all the old slasher flicks. You're in the middle of the woods, a million miles from nowhere, there's an axe murderer running around and what do they do? Go skinnydipping in the lake.

Huh? How stupid is that?

An extremely important moment in a story can be ruined if the reader doesn't believe it. I can't tell you how many times I've watched a TV show and wondered why in the world would someone do what they did? Because they wouldn't have a plot without it, but that reasoning is very thin. Making people act like idiots just to move the plot along is a sign, at least IMO, of a very poorly conceived and written storyline.

March 29th, 2004, 06:35 AM
The straight answer to the first question is a simple one: yes, it is very important for the story to have a realistic quality to it. Suspension of disbelief for the reader, IMO, is a vital part of any story, perhaps most important in science fiction and fantasy stories. The second question is a more complex one, how does one suspend the disbelief of the reader?

"Show, don't tell." This rule, I believe, is familiar to most writers and illustrates the importance of creating a world than anyone can accept. I recently read an article by the writer Flannery O'Connor and she said quite succinctly that (and I'm paraphrasing here) the writer can't "create compassion with compassion, or emotion with emotion or thought with thought. He has to provide all these things with a body; he has to create a world with weight and extension." The devil is in the details... and what the writer chooses, carefully, to reveal to the reader is immensely important. Some stories fail in their suspension of disbelief, IMO, because of a lack of attention to the "showing details". I'll often read a simple telling statement: "I love her". A statement like this can't succeed in inciting an emotional response or believability without details of that love.

With this in mind, I think that a writer can get a reader to suspend their disbelief and buy into any story no matter how outrageous the setting using "show, don't tell". Quoting O'Connor again, you can look at a story like "The Metamorphosis". The setting is a realistic one involving a family in a contemporary time period, where the protagonist turns into a giant cockroach overnight for absolutely no reason at all. But the reader accepts this ridiculous plot turn "because the concrete detail of the story is absolutely convincing."

Okay, I'm rambling now. I'll just end it with another O'Connor quote on something interesting she says on writing fantasy stories (as mentioned in the story The Metamorphosis), above: "I would even go so far as to say that the person writing a fantasy has to be even more strictly attentive to the concrete detail than someone writing in a naturalistic vein - because the greater the story's strain on credulity, the more convincing the properties in it have to be."

ironchef texmex
March 29th, 2004, 10:25 AM
Before we get to carried away with the importance of realism in a story, I have two words: Star Trek!

[Proceeding the Enterprise's imminent destruction a young boy invents a new law of physics to save the crew.... repeatedly]

Story goes that Larry Niven has something he calls "Bolognium", his term for the property of a thing which can not possibly exist. His goal is to limit himself to one or two per book. What I found interesting was the examples given as to what he considered Bolognium. Some of the items mentioned seemed totally plausible, while some things that went unmentioned seemed... uh... less likely.

[The star ship Enterprise was once attacked by a giant amoeba]

Lets face it. When it comes to the unknown most of us will accept just about anything.

[Whoopi Goldberg made her way aboard and no one, I repeat, no one tried to beam her off!]

Even scientists are guilty of this. Carl Sagan once stated that Jupiter could be populated by a species of living 'gas bag' creatures. There were even a few stories written on it. Sounded good, at least until someone else pointed out that all life as we know it evolves... and there's no way a single celled life form could originate in Jupiter's atmosphere. Nice try Carl.

[the original 'away team' = Captain + First Officer + Chief medical officer + just-some-other-guy]

I agree that internal consistancy is more important than the conceptial science. However, I think that even there we have to be careful. It's already been mentioned that people can act really stupid in the movies. But some people are really stupid. There's a thread over in the Sci/Fi forum about techno-geeks like William Gibson and how none of there characters seem lifelike. It's almost as if they know more about computers (gasp) than they do about people. You know what? They still sell gobs and gobs of books.

[The holo-deck can fulfill any fantasy a man can dream. Pacard's choice of program - farming]

As important as realism is. I think that an engrosing story and interesting characters are more important still. If the reader gets sucked into a given story or world, they'll believe just about anything.

March 29th, 2004, 10:44 AM
I think you can make up anything you want as long as you have have something that's based in reality. Meaning, a weird ass world with believable characters or a crazy situation in a relatively normal world.

March 29th, 2004, 05:01 PM
Suspension of disbelief to me has never meant that it has a link to reality. It means that it is written with enough texture and credibility that I can see it, and feel it. The writer creates a new realilty for me to partake in. I have found myself reading fantasy that is in a totally different place that I can get totally into and 'believe' in.

March 30th, 2004, 10:36 AM
Suspension of disbelief is required to the extent that the author of the work finds it important. :)

Say you're Terry Pratchett. You're writing a humorous satirical fantasy about a flat world on the back of a giant tortoise. You're not exactly promoting realism to your audience, nor are you even trying to make the imaginary world credible or consistent. In fact, you're deliberately making it lacking in credibility, because it's funny.

The audience doesn't have to suspend their disbelief to enjoy a story -- they just have to want to join in. And how serious, realistic or logical a story is depends on what the author wants to do with the story and how the author is inviting the readers to experience the story. That being said, internal contradictions of story or character logic can weaken a storyline, but that doesn't have much to do with suspension of disbelief. It has to do with the author confusing the audience so that they find the story hard to follow or uninteresting.

So how critical realism is in a story, especially a speculative story, depends on what the writer is trying to do, in my view.

March 30th, 2004, 05:19 PM
Originally posted by KatG
The audience doesn't have to suspend their disbelief to enjoy a story -- they just have to want to join in.

A reasonable (if slightly unintended) definition of the phrase - and it's import - I'd say.

March 31st, 2004, 09:59 AM
That's because every writing phrase or imaginary rule of writing has about six different definitions to it. But hey, let's use mine. :)

March 31st, 2004, 03:12 PM
Originally posted by KatG
That's because every writing phrase or imaginary rule of writing has about six different definitions to it. But hey, let's use mine. :)

Six, huh? So (thinking furiously if in a haphazard way) - if I were to manage to sum 'em up, there'd be six different definitions of each definition, which adds up to (thinking again, but giving up) errrr, lots?

(Scratches head)

Know what - you're right. Let's use yours :D

(Moves off with engaging grin but in very confused state of mind...)