A Note About Realism

Reality is unrealistic.


I especially like the people who just go about their shopping like this is a completely ordinary occurrence.

heh, awesome. of course, my headcannon is about the suit being used by someone who normally just walks around, who was knocked out by our hero who stole teh suit to hide from some people running through the store looking for them.

A thing someone once told me was that people might call bullshit on someone in a movie or a book surviving a really bad scrape, but you can probably google a similar situation where someone say, fell ten stories and inexplicably survived.

What a limber cow!

I often don't take someone saying "It's unrealistic." as a criticism worth addressing, especially in a world where a one-balled dictator started a World War while his enemies tried to dose him with estrogen to make him look weaker to his own people. Or in a world where Confederate reenactors get struck by lightning on July 4th. Or where Abe Lincoln's son's life was saved by John Wilkes Booth's brother. And so on.

Then again, I'm not entirely sure what people mean by saying things are unrealistic in a story where people somehow have the ability to defy physics on a regular basis, and I think I do a lot of things more realistic than others would (or should) do.

There's serious stories, and there's comedy. Anything that wants to be serious needs some realism, even if it includes magic or superpowers. For instance, wise old men who talk and behave like children without any explanation are just jarring. Or people who don't react to a house exploding right next to them.

Something light-hearted and funny like PG's serial has different standards - anything goes there, and that's perfectly fine.

Canon - In fiction, canon is the material accepted as part of the story in an individual fictional universe.

Therefore: head-canon is a reader's personal take on what happened in a story, regardless of authorial intent. A head-cannon would be an artillery device emerging from the head to blow stuff up.

I think you mean canon when you write cannon. But head-cannon would be unrealistically awesome in a PG supervillain?

I've always taken "That's unrealistic!" as a "You didn't explain this clearly enough" and "This feels out of place compared to the rest of the series". It's been a good rule of thumb for beta readers who aren't used to putting their finger on what's off about a scene.

My takeaway from "realism" in fiction is that whatever you write on a page gets magnified by the fact that it's the thing you chose to write out of the 10,000 other possible details in the scene, so it's going to lose... what's the word. Blending? As in, in "real life" whatever you're describing is in the context of all these other sights and sounds and smells and tastes, and it's not possible to include all of it without drowning the scene in a wall of description unless you are really on your game. So as a writer you make choices what to use and what not to use.

Add to this that the reader will add his or her own blending if you're describing something they're familiar with, and if they're not familiar with it, it will appear even more strange. I've probably used this example before, but in a very early draft of the first six or seven chapters of The Points Between half of the people who read it complained that the accents were unrealistic, and that the cast were a pack of cartoonish hicks as a result. The other half of the people who read it didn't know what the first half were talking about.

As it happens, the half who didn't thing the cast were hicks were either southern or knew a fair number of southerners. The first half had no familiarity with any real southern dialect (just the kind you saw in movies). So the first half had no personal experience for "blending" (still not really happy about that phrase, but it'll work for now).

So when I started rewriting, I toned down the dialect (much as it pained me) to make it more accessible to people unfamiliar with it. The people who were already familiar with it didn't seem to notice, since they still picked up on the queues and filled in the rest themselves. The people who aren't familiar with it haven't really complained. To me at least. So I assume it's working.

So yeah, in some ways "less is more" really is a good thing to keep in mind in a lot of situations, since it's not just your writing, but the perceptions and experiences of the reader who will be acting as a force multiplier on what you're writing.

doh. i always make that typo, because I want to make and sell a hat that has a large cannon on it and the printing, Incoming Head-Canon.

But if you're talking about Schlock Mercenary, I declare "head-cannon" to be correct.

Coincidentally, head-cannon is what I call my... piece of 19th century warfare technology.

Also, yeah. I think there's a bit of making sure you're following the rules of your story. And if you're doing a serious story, and people are already suspending disbelief enough to believe in FTL travel or dragons or what have you, you shouldn't have a million other unbelievable things that don't in some way add to the story that you're telling. (If "Why would this person do that?" doesn't have an obvious answer, or an interesting answer that you explain in-story, then the person probably shouldn't be acting that way.)

As has already been mentioned, the rule isn't quite as important in comedy, because we're willing to suspend our disbelief a lot more in that case. And really, the whole point of suspending disbelief is getting immersed in a story. Whereas, a lot of the time that I'm watching comedy, I'm not getting immersed in the story, as much as I'm appreciating the jokes and the foibles of everyone I'm reading/watching. (That said, that last bit might be less a universal thing and more a "writer who likes comedy" thing.)

"Suspension of disbelief" is critical for the integrity of a fictional world's immersive quality, I agree. And when it comes to fantasy and science fiction, it is the actions of characters that should be "believable" or "realistic" because the setting itself is not and shouldn't be expected to be.

What Billy is saying about comedy not needing that immersive quality is in fact a necessity for comedy to take place, because of how it affects or brains. Comedy and laughter occur because of cognitive dissonance. Something has to be out of place, because the everyday, ordinary order of things isn't funny.

So there's the ridiculous, like knights clopping coconuts for horse sounds in Monty Python, and there's the simple, like Andy Kaufman moving a fake booger from nostril to nostril when a conversation partner looks away to see if they notice disparity.

Comedy relies on the absurd, the jarring, the out of place, the ridiculous. The tone of a piece develops based on how far it strays from reality - Monty Python strays pretty far, while Friends was pretty similar to real life.

Sometimes going too far in a scene seems "unrealistic" because it doesn't suit the rest of the work's tone, so I think we really mean that part is "inconsistent" with the rest.

Yeah, I call it less "realism" and more "internal consistency." Things should look like they work within the world's rules that have been established, whatever those are. However I will allow for those rules to be broken, even jarringly, if it goes somewhere interesting with it. If it happens innocuously or is never followed up on then it's probably a mistake worth pointing out.