Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Check Reality Before You Reject It

A lot of fiction can be called larger than life.  The Rule of Cool is repetively invoked in all manner of stories.  This is why the star-fighters in Star Wars make strange whining sounds and action heroes can outrun explosions.  This is why characters in movies and TV shows seem like they're experts in just about everything.  This is why the characters in romance movies can so flawlessly express themselves.  Fiction, even realistic fiction that says it sticks firmly within what is possible in real life, still seems to stick strongly to the mantra "I reject your reality and substitute my own!"

However, you should not simply reject reality when making your stories.  The first thing you should do when writing a scene and desiring to make something "cool" is to do the research as to the reality of the subject.  If you don't know precisely what is or is not possible or realistic, then you increase the risk of breaking the willing suspension of disbelief.


There is a big difference between someone who did not do the research and someone who studied the subject and decided to ignore reality anyway.

For example, in Bystander, I have a couple of instances where I've let reality take a break.  Robles BASE jumping in "Shake Ups" is probably ridiculously difficult in real life, but I decided to have her pull it off with really no issue simply because it was cool.  Likewise, Lucretia herself, as a superstrong individual with better than human reflexes, should be a bit more effective in a fight than she is, but I've ignored some of that because it is more interesting if she is bad in a fight.

The audience can accept a lot of changes from reality without blinking, but the level of tolerance is different from person to person and subject to subject.

My brother once picked up a game book detailing modern weapons and flipped to the section on mortars.  I was then treated to a thirty minute frothing at the mouth lecture about how inaccurate the mortar section was.  Among other things, I was assured that three shots a minute was a ridiculously slow rate that would mark any crew as incompetent.  I was also assured that the kill radius of the mortar rounds was about ten times larger than what the book suggested it was,

A story can easily survive a handful of those, however, if every reader is making the same observations, then you have made a mistake.  Understanding the reality behind certain things is the best defense against that.  If you understand the reality, then your choices to reject it are likely to be made in ways that support the story rather than counter it.

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