Q&A: Realism

Is it is possible to write a book you DON’T want to be realistic? I like cartoons and comics and I want to write something where fighting styles and powers are not realistic, but the psychology and relationships are. Like Durarara or something. No one dismisses Shizuo (superhuman strength) or Celty (a Dulahan) as unrealistic b/c they aren’t supposed to be. The real fun is in their daily lives and relationships. What is the secret for books like this? Advice from you or your followers would help!

Yes and no.

For your story to work, there needs to be some internal consistency. In that sense; yes, your work needs to be realistic, however the reality your characters live in doesn’t need to conform to the real world.

You can write a world with violence and characters straight out of Saturday morning cartoons, or superhero comics.

I struggle to call a character like Superman realistic, but that has more to do with 80 years of inconsistent writing. The basic pitch for the character, as a superpowered alien is fine. It’s realistic within the context of a world where you have hundreds of, “last of their kind,” alien refugees descending on earth and intermixing with an equally diverse array of other superheroes and villains. It’s realistic for its world, just not for ours.

The difficult part in this is juggling the audience’s suspension of disbelief. The more, “implausible,” your world is, the harder you’ll have to work to establish what, “realistic,” means for your characters.

The best advice I can offer on the subject is remembering to make the world, “real,” for your characters. They need to plausibly live in that world. What your readers see as novel would be mundane for them. It’s also important to follow the logic of your world to flesh it out further. For example: “What does it mean to live in a world where superheroes are making the evening news?”

One danger to keep in mind is that you want to be consistent with your world, and your characters. Even if the world doesn’t reflect the real one, you want it to be a compelling and believable. Similarly, you need believable characters, as they’re what your audience is most likely to connect to.

I suspect this question came from the idea that all stories need to adhere to the real world. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Using the real world as your template can make your life easier. You already have some understanding of how the real world functions, and you share that with your audience. It gives you a shared context which you can populate with your characters and events. The more you deviate from the real world, the more work you have to do. You’ll transition from having a world your audience already knows, to one that’s similar, but you need to point out the discrepancies, to one that is almost unrecognizable. It’s more work, but that shouldn’t put you off the idea.

Prose, more than any other medium, is not constrained by the real world. You can write whatever you want. You can write things that are fundamentally impossible. The question is, can you make interesting for your readers?

Try. Even if your first efforts don’t succeed, the lessons you learn along the way will help you when you try again.


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