Monday, October 15, 2012

On Writing: Believability Vs. Realism

Over the last few weeks I've read a surprising amount of short stories by people who are looking to get into writing. The common factor among most, if not all of them, was the fight for realism. For many writers, there is a fight to make what they write the perfect mixture of believability and realism, because let’s be honest, even in fantasy, there's only so much disbelief you can suspend before it becomes too much.

Suspension of disbelief is like filling a cup: the more you fill it, the less it can hold. It's also true that as we get older, the cup gets smaller because when we are younger, we have a greater capacity for make believe. When we get older, we need more facts to show how things work: we want to know that magic works because people who can use it are fundamentally different than us, and that monsters aren't around anymore because people out there hunt them.

Realism and believability are intricately connected, they both affect one another. Just for an example, a friend of mine told me about a Civil War story he is planning. In the story, a Russian soldier is introduced, and I had to stop him right at that point and ask him if there were really Russian soldiers in the United States during the Civil War. While he assured me that there were, and I believe him since he is a big American history enthusiast as far as wars are concerned, the fact that I had to stop him to find out make it less believable, and can hamper a story in the long run. Realism, on its own, can hold a story back, because just like a joke with a ten dollar word attached to it, it's not a funny if you have to look it up.

One of the reasons that science fiction has risen so high in popularity is its attachment to believability. While most of the things that are involved may never happen, they still are attached to something that is true technologically. We may never create something that can transport someone over a long distance instantaneously, but the fact that we see the machine and the people working it, makes it entertaining. Fantasy, on the other hand, tries to add realism to a subject to create a better image of what we will never see outside of CGI and magic tricks.

The best stories merge the two, creating a perfect blend of the realistic and believable imagery that we can wrap our minds around, and entice readers to want to read more about their world where anything can happen.

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