Being realistic in a work of fiction

You're upset about the scientific inaccuracies in a comic book movie about an alien who can fly?
Some people were actually upset about the scientific inaccuracies in a comic book movie about an alien who can fly

“The monsters attack.”

This simple line in my action spec outline was the catalyst for a major thought process that continues to grow by leaps and bounds.  Questions are being raised that demand answers.

In creating this world, not only do I have to develop the story you’ll be following, but also fill in a lot of details about the world itself – which just happens to have monsters in it, which leads to more questions.  It never occurred to me to consider subjects such as biology, geology and the laws of physics as they apply to monsters (all of which play a part in the story).

“But it’s just a story,” some might say. “Don’t worry about stuff like that.” But it’s exactly the stuff like that that makes the story better, plus it shows I’m taking this seriously – even if it does involve monsters.

I’ve always had an intense dislike for writing that takes the easy way out in explaining something, or does it in a very half-assed way.  It makes it seem like the writer didn’t care enough to do a little more work.

It’s very important to me that not only are the events of the story based in reality, but the setting is as well.  This is something I strive for in everything I write – no matter what the genre.

The more detailed you can make the world of your story, the more believable it’ll be. But be careful not to overdo it – too much detail creates confusion. Just give enough to make ’em say “Yeah, that makes sense.” or “I can totally see that happening.”

Now it’s back to my research on which metallic alloy would be the most effective for killing monsters. So far, tungsten carbide seems to be the frontrunner.

9 thoughts on “Being realistic in a work of fiction

  1. The all-time best example of what you’re saying here for me is H.G. Well’s The Time Machine, where the scientific explanation of how the Time Traveller can time travel is by pulling a lever. That’s as far as he goes to explain it.

    • Great point! It reminds me of how we never learn exactly how the flux capacitor makes time travel possible.

      Guess we shouldn’t get too wrapped up in details that it takes us out of the story, but it is nice to get a little explanation.

  2. For me it’s all about internal consistency and the sniff test. If it feels like it works, then okay.

    But I get tripped up by weird logistical/technical things. Like in X-Men 3 there’s a scene where Wolverine is basically being telekinetically belt sanded and he keeps healing. I caught myself wondering how many calories does that consume?

    • For some stupid reason I found myself thinking something extremely similar. I think it’s really linked to Dragonball Z. There is a scene in which Goku’s massive appetite is linked to his Usage of calories in his battles and training. Not sure I really would have thought along those lines otherwise.
      Now every time I see super hero types I always wonder what their calorie intake must be like.

      • They did something similar on the old live-action FLASH TV show – showing Barry after scarfing down a huge meal – all due to his sped-up metabolism. See? Plausible use of science!

  3. Michael Crichton handled this very question superbly with Jurassic Park. The first part of the book was the science behind the resurrection of the dinosaurs, and then he flung it all away for the second half, which was all action extravaganza. Have you read it? Maybe that will help out. Other than that, I wouldn’t sweat it. Star Wars showed you can do anything as long as it’s properly set-up. We believe the Force and the Jedi tricks because they’re explained; same with the flux capacitor. The foundation of those stories was so strong that you were immediately carried into those worlds without hesitation, and thinking the MacGuffins actually worked wasn’t a stretch at all. Know the details for yourself, of course, but I have always been cautioned about letting too much research show on the page. I’m always inclined to be confident in my descriptions because of the background and leave it at that.

    • I’m not concerned about putting too much research on the page. It’s more of a “I want to make this as plausible as possible within reason” type of thing.

      Oh, and I was totally onboard with the ways of the Jedi and the Force until the midichlorians showed up.

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