Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Internal Consistency is What Your Novel Needs (Not Realism)

How many times have you had people complain about a lack of "realism" in fiction? "This one guy killed hundreds of enemy soldiers in a single winter, that's so unrealistic!" "A single soldier climbed a cliff face, was shot half a dozen times, and still took out two bunkers with a hand grenade and his bare hands, that's so unrealistic!" "This guy is using a sword in a modern war, and he captured a dozen enemy soldiers with it, this is so unrealistic!"

She's casting a spell through the mic, that's so unrealistic!
In case you couldn't guess by the sarcasm quotes, every incident I mentioned in the first paragraph actually took place. You can read about the soldiers who accomplished those very things in 5 Real Life Soldiers Who Made Rambo Look Like A Pussy. It goes to show that no matter how ridiculous fiction gets, there is always something more badass (or at least equally badass) that has happened in the real world.

But realism isn't what you should be concerned with, as a writer of fiction. What you should care about is the internal consistency of your world. Which is, more often than not, what we're talking about when we throw around the word realistic.

Your World, Your Rules

The most important thing to remember about your book is that it's your world, and your rules. If you say that the ability to use magic is an inherited trait, then it is. If you say the government has jurisdiction over thought crimes, then it does. It is your world, and it can be whatever you say it is. The key is to make sure that your world has its own internal logic, and that all your rules still hold up when taken to their natural limits.

All goats now have rights... what does that mean for the legal system?
The problem is when you start subverting your own rules, and the internal logic starts to break down. For instance, if you set your book up as taking place strictly in the modern day, using the rules of our world as we know them, and then things that make no sense start happening. Like a 20 mile-an-hour car crash resulting in a 50-foot-high column of fire. Or computers being made to explode remotely without any explanation of where the combustion came from. Things that, in the rules of the world we know and exist in, don't happen.

That's why you need to make your world's rules clear, and follow them. We know, for example, that Superman's biggest weakness is kryptonite. And while there have been a thousand different strips and plots surrounding the character, that rules has never been broken. If someone holds out a chunk of this green, glowing rock, then Earth's mightiest hero recoils like Dracula before a crucifix. Speaking of Dracula, Van Helsing was kind enough to lay out the rules for vampires in Bram Stoker's novel. And when we encounter vampires? Well, they have the same weaknesses that Van Helsing laid out for us. Which cements his reputation as an expert in the field, and makes the mythical creatures true in a concrete, important way.

Dragons Don't Make Your Argument Invalid

There's something that happens in fantasy circles where someone will point out an internal consistency error, and the response is along the lines of, "oh, there's wizards and dragons in this book, but the lead being able to climb a mountain in a day, dressed in a loincloth, is what bothers you?"

Now that you mention it, it really doesn't make sense.
The presence of something completely unbelievable (like dragons, magic, an immortal serial killer, etc.) doesn't give a pass to some other aspect of the story breaking your internal logic. Every aspect of a story needs to be weighed, and judged, on its own merits. Having a character who can shrug off broken bones with no outside aid in less than a week doesn't suddenly make sense just because there are witches in this world.

Especially if said witches didn't offer to heal that wound... for a price.

Well, that's my thoughts for this week's Craft of Writing. Hopefully some of you find it useful, or at the very least entertaining. If you'd like to support me, and keep this blog going, then why not head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron? As little as $1 a month gets you some swag, and helps out way more than you'd think. Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter yet, well, why not start now?

No comments:

Post a Comment