1. People mean various things when they ask for ‘realism’, though. In many cases, they actually just want something that feels plausible for the story world in question. Do events and circumstances ring true for the setting and characters the author put forth?

    To some extent, knowing the way things are in real life can ruin a story and make it annoying to read, rather than entertaining. A kid, for instance, might enjoy reading about dogs that have retractable claws. But then someone might point out that in real life dogs don’t have retractable claws and therefore depicting dogs with retractable claws is ridiculous. That little fact of reality might then make the kid roll his eyes at any story that has such obvious errors.

    But let’s say a sci fi author wanted to write a realistic story, but liked the idea of dogs having sharp claws. So the sci fi author might be like ‘in my space universe, dogs were genetically engineered to have sharp retractable claws’

    Suddenly, there’s a plausible in story reason for dogs to have retractable claws. So the kid that formerly rejected dogs with retractible claws stories might love the tale written by that sci fi author, because the sci fi author made up an explanation that at least FELT realistic.

    I haven’t read the LoTR books, but the movies seemed alright to me. But we have to remember that those are two different mediums. Maybe the movies could have dealt with less conflict, assuming the filmmakers did a good enough job with writing and scene setting. But they might have still had to add SOME extra conflicts that weren’t in the book.

    I agree that people aren’t literally going to have problems at every turn and writers go overboard with that. But if writers don’t show conflict, they should often be willing to show complexity. The two characters in question are going through life and death situations for years on end and somehow never disagree or fight? Ok, great. Give an extremely detailed glimpse into their heads to show why that’s the case. Otherwise the characters can come off as gullible or shallow. The story they are in, or the ideal they represent might be wonderful or deep, but that doesn’t automatically make the characters themselves deep.

    • notleia says:

      Uh-oh, I’m falling off topic, but I find it fascinating how form follows function in biology.
      If dogs were to have sharp, retractable claws, it would probably mean that they’d turned into ambush predators, like most cats, rather than pursuit predators. Wolves (and cheetahs) use their claws for traction while running, which dulls them.
      Domestic cats generally don’t have super sharp back claws because those ones are used for traction rather than grabbing, unless you are my Hauspanzer, who chews and picks at both front and back claws for optimum couch and/or human gouging. (I have a healing cut on my belly from when I picked her up and she stabbed through my shirt. We had a clipping session afterward.)

      • Yep, which is why such little details matter and why those details can drive people crazy.

        And even if dogs were genetically engineered to have retractable claws, getting them to use them in a way that’s desirable would probably take a lot of modification to the parts of their DNA that have to do with behavior. Or they’d have to undergo a lot of training. I mean, some dogs already do try to paw at people and grab at things, but weaponizing such tendencies after giving them sharp claws would be more complicated. But stories that actually think through stuff like that and explore all those challenges can be pretty interesting.

  2. notleia says:

    I, too, have been bingeing the Star Trek series on Netflix, and what I noticed is the greater realism in how people speak. Of course, with the intro series, they had to establish a lot with exposition dumping all the backstory at us, but they also felt the need to explain more of the science that ran the plot. Of course, a lot of the plots now have more pseudoscience that only needs some argle-bargle about reversing the polarity, so less is definitely more in that case.

    But the amounts of stupid, useless conflict is definitely too many.

  3. I like there being stories with varying levels of optimism, realism, darkness, etc. No one story is going to be completely realistic, but they show parts or aspects of reality. A super grim dark story might look at some of the most horrific parts of history and show a fantasy version of those. Or they might just point out some of the deep psychological reasons humanity is tainted. Maybe those things are over exaggerated so the audience can see and criticize them, and maybe many aspects of the story world aren’t true to real life, but it’s the same with bright hopeful stories. Regardless of whether a story is dark or light, everything in it needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but it may still have valuable lessons to teach. And sometimes darker tales can reveal a lot about people, even outside the story itself.

    Death Note mentions on many occasions that the main character, Light, gained a rather large following of people that believed in his idea of killing all criminals so only good people remained. If you look at enough discussions of this show, though, there are actually a lot of people that agree with his viewpoint. In fact, I heard that before writing the Death Note manga, the authors wrote a short preview story discussing the premise and asked readers to put forth their opinion on the issue. So the reader responses may very well have shaped the writing of Death Note, in terms of the authors having lots of people’s reactions to use as a reference.

    So, like, with conflict, writers should probably think long and hard about which conflicts are actually necessary, and be brainstorming ways to add complexity and interesting things without conflict and violence. I write a lot of tragic stuff, and one thing I’ve learned is that it’s important to give characters things they genuinely love and enjoy, and use those scenes to establish character relationships and future plot points. Those scenes won’t feel boring if they successfully fulfill multiple purposes and move the plot along. (Maybe the character’s lives can be unraveling bit by bit, and the readers can tell, even though the characters can’t just yet)And those scenes actually make the darker sadder plot points matter because by then, whenever the character loses something they love, the audience genuinely feels that loss too.

  4. KT Sweet says:

    Thought provoking. Thank you!

What do you think?