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Group Questions? > Realism vs plausibility

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message 1: by Jacek (new)

Jacek Slay Uhh, I hope I'll make myself clear...

The question is: Do books have to be 100% realistic or just to the point, when an average reader believes they are realistic?

Or: to what extent does the writer have to do the research? Do they have to be perfectly accurate fact-wise, or is it enough that they just create a realistic "frame" for the story, while the details can be made up?

A quick example: I want to write a story, based in New York, where one of the characters is executed by lethal injection. Having in mind that NY doesn't have capital punishment, let alone lethal injection, and that an average reader doesn't (have to) know that, am I justified or does it make my book "bad" because it doesn't fully refer to an existing situation?

Of course we're not talking about "alternative history" or anything like that...


message 2: by Renee E (new)

Renee E | 395 comments Those are pretty big facts to flaunt. Personally, I wouldn't even begin to read a book based on a such a fundamentally flawed premise.


message 3: by Jason (new)

Jason Crawford (jasonpatrickcrawford) | 591 comments I think that depends on the genre, honestly. If you're doing a factual-style book, like historical fiction or contemporary fiction that focuses on life in NY...then you might get called on it if you don't explain how it happened. If you're doing an urban or paranormal novel where things are already weird, then it might not matter as much.


message 4: by Lily (new)

Lily Vagabond (lilyauthor) There are two schools of thought with fiction in general.

1. Reality is stranger than fiction.

2. Anything is possible as long as it's plausible.

I ascribed to the second school of thought, both as a writer and as a reader. Reality-based fiction bores me to tears, but that's just me.

So, long story short, the answer is yes to everthing. If reality-based, reality is stranger than fiction, then the author better be an expert at the subject matter. If anything is possible as long as it's plausible, than the author better do a lot of research and be more than willing to learn something the new.

In my opinion, as always, it comes down to motivation. Author happens to be an ex-FBI agent, write a thiller, it makes sense. Author happens to be imaginative and has a strong work ethic, write anything as long as there's a stong commitment to research and, as the kids would say, thinking outside of the box.

All that aside, using your example, no matter which school of thought you ascribe to, it would be bad writing. Readers would assume either you have no expertise or you didn't do your research. Possibly both.


message 5: by Quentin (last edited Apr 27, 2015 09:23AM) (new)

Quentin Wallace (quentinwallace) | 388 comments I would set it in a state that does have capital punishment and lethal injection, or maybe set it in the near future where NY does have such. It wouldn't have to be hundreds of years, just do it ten years or so.


message 6: by Yzabel (new)

Yzabel Ginsberg (yzabelginsberg) | 176 comments Not necessarily always 100% realistic (as Lily mentioned, sometimes, reality IS just stranger than fiction). However, in the example you mentioned, yes, I think it would have to be more realistic than that. I don't know how US readers would react, but coming from a country where death sentence was abolished decades ago, I wouldn't immediately think "oh it's set in the US, so surely it's the same in every state there."

As a rule of thumb, never assume "the average reader won't know", because you can't be sure who's interested in what. For instance, and for reasons not even related to writing (it was for a tabletop RPG), I looked up some information about guns, and now, if I notice a character using a Glock 17 isn't unlocking its safety the "right" way, I'd immediately frown. As an "average reader", am I supposed to know that? Nope. But I still do, and I'll still think "do your reasearch first".

Obviously, an author can't know everything, of course, and readers will overlook some details. If you decide to add an alley bisecting Tottenham Court Road in London, because you want to put some supernatural night club or shop there, I couldn't care less that it doesn't exist in the real London, as it would very likely be believable in a given setting. However, as soon as you include plot devices/points that could be noticed as "flawed" (e.g. a political thriller set in Britain, but without any thorough knowledge of politics in this country), assume that someone will notice the flaw at some point--and sooner than later.


message 7: by Jacek (new)

Jacek Slay John Grisham, one of the more recognizable legal thriller authors (and - what's pretty important - a lawyer), openly admits that almost all the laws and articles in his books are made up.

Lily - the example might not be as accurate as I hoped it would be (probably shouldn't have picked the US for it), but the point is, the writer assumes that his readers don't have the knowledge of the fact, unless they were experts or dug really deep.

But I see your point. I guess I do.


message 8: by Andrew (new)

Andrew Lawston (andrewlawston) | 44 comments Gosh, I actually do use an alley bisecting Tottenham Court Road for a supernatural bar in my WiP but, fully aware of the indulgent in-joke I was about to commit, I went ahead and made it Windmill Street anyway...

I suppose, as long as there's a shred of plausibility, people will give you an easy ride. Luc Besson's Nikita depicts someone being "executed" by lethal injection, even though France hasn't had capital punishment for quite a while, on the grounds that it's at the behest of a shadowy government organisation.


message 9: by Quentin (new)

Quentin Wallace (quentinwallace) | 388 comments I just think it's best to stick to realism when dealing with facts such as that. Now, let me get back to my novel set in the snowy mountains of Southern Florida...


message 10: by Lily (new)

Lily Vagabond (lilyauthor) Jacek wrote: "John Grisham, one of the more recognizable legal thriller authors (and - what's pretty important - a lawyer), openly admits that almost all the laws and articles in his books are made up.

Lily - t..."


John Grisham is the prefect example. He's a lawyer with years and years of dirrect experience. This allows him to fiddle with "reality" to a certain extent because everything else is completely realistic. He's the perfect example of reality is stranger than fiction.

Conversely, if say, a first year art student who has only worked at Starbucks part-time decided to write a 400+ page legal thriller, since they lack the experience or expertise, they would have to do a lot of research and use a lot of imagination in order to make anything possible, as long as it's plausible.

Both realism and plausibilty are fine. I believe this comes down to crafting versus making up bullshit.


message 11: by Jacek (new)

Jacek Slay Quentin, but there's something called "common knowledge". You don't have to be an expert to know that there are no icebergs near the Equator, because it's a commonly known fact. But I suppose you have to dig really deep to learn that, let's say (and I'm totally making this up, just to show an example), the voting rights in some God-forgotten region of Africa are earned at the age of 25 (and the author states in his book, that the right are earned at the age of 21). So even though it might be a blatant lie (and even though the author might be well aware of that), does it make his book "bad" if hardly nobody knows it?


message 12: by Lily (new)

Lily Vagabond (lilyauthor) Jacek, yes. To put it bluntly.

Average readers might not know all seemingly random trivia, but they will perceive something wrong with the writing at least on a subconscious level, even if they can't pinpoint what's wrong.

Average readers are not that stupid. They would have to be brain dead to not sense a certain something is wrong with the writing.


message 13: by Ashe (new)

Ashe Armstrong (ashearmstrong) If you're going for a fictional account of contemporary times, strictly adhering to real life laws and rules, then you've got to give a reason for why NY now executes prisoners. It's fiction, so you have wiggle room.


message 14: by Quentin (last edited Apr 27, 2015 10:07AM) (new)

Quentin Wallace (quentinwallace) | 388 comments I also think you need to examine things closer as to what facts you're dealing with. If you're talking about voting rights in some obscure region of Africa, that could probably never be proven wrong. Something like that in most cases couldn't even be researched. I doubt information like that would even be online. Things like capital punishment in New York is fairly easy to research. So it depends on what facts you're playing with, at least I think so.


message 15: by Jacek (last edited Apr 27, 2015 10:10AM) (new)

Jacek Slay @Lily - this is my point exactly. Fiction doesn't have to BE perfectly real, it has to GIVE AN IMPRESSION of being real. I suppose as long as readers believe in what you write, it's okay?

But I've also seen a different approach of readers - the one that, to some extent, Yzabel presents - when everything must be a perfect copy of reality, otherwise it's bad. When glocks unlocking their safety not in a "proper" way, cars riding 5km/h faster than their real speed limits, some minor facts made up ("everybody knows the highest temperature in Paris ever was 38 degrees, so how can he write that it was 40 on the day of murder?!") make book "unreal" and "unreadable"...

edit:
@Quentin: you're right. I suppose my main mistake in this example was picking easily-researchable fact. But I can't agree with you more - IMO it's definitely up to what facts you're playing with and how conscient of them readers are...


message 16: by Quentin (new)

Quentin Wallace (quentinwallace) | 388 comments I will use an example from my own writing. In one instance I wrote about a log cabin in the 1800s that had glass windows. Well, a reader told me that log cabins then didn't have glass windows. However, this was a rich family, and glass windows did exist then, so yes, this cabin had glass windows, damn it lol.

It reaches a point where it becomes subjective I suppose, but your example about NY executions are pretty much set in stone I'd think.


message 17: by Lily (new)

Lily Vagabond (lilyauthor) Jacek, absolutely. Give the readers the chance to believe. No need to hit them over the head ;)

Sometimes it's best to not listen to critics. Everyone's a critic. In my personal opinion, I find it hard to consider someone a reader if they're being overly critical.

So, i suspect wht you're actually referring too is not readers at all, it's critics, and, well, screw 'em.

A little off topic, but I think it's related. In the face of reality tv shows, I have noticed a growing trend for a while to assume ZOMG this book is not realistic! Never mind the fact that all realty tv shows are 100% fake... Well, personally, chances are high that anyone who's brainwahed by reality tv, won't be a part of my audience, so I never worry about it.


message 18: by Yzabel (new)

Yzabel Ginsberg (yzabelginsberg) | 176 comments Andrew wrote: "Gosh, I actually do use an alley bisecting Tottenham Court Road for a supernatural bar in my WiP but, fully aware of the indulgent in-joke I was about to commit, I went ahead and made it Windmill S..."

Haha, see? Reality is so strange, sometimes!

(As for Nikita, I think her execution was carried illegally by government agents. But France still had death penalty until 1981, so if you consider the movie in a timeless way, as "set some time in the 1980s", it could possibly even work--Joséphine's training took years, not just a few months, so who knows, if she was arrested in 1981, she might indeed even have been sentended to death legally. I can't remember if any date was actually provided in the movie?)


message 19: by Yzabel (new)

Yzabel Ginsberg (yzabelginsberg) | 176 comments Jacek: The example I provided wouldn't make a novel "unreadable" for me, if this can be of comfort. ^^ At least not if it was the only mistake in it, or if it didn't impede the plot or made a character look dumb (like an agent or soldier extensively talking about/using weapons and making that "mistake").


message 20: by Quentin (new)

Quentin Wallace (quentinwallace) | 388 comments Actually as a reader, things like this rarely, if ever, bother me. However, if I lived in NY something like that may.

In any case, Jacek, I'm glad you started this topic because I'm thinking closer about it myself now.


message 21: by Lily (new)

Lily Vagabond (lilyauthor) It's a good topic :)


message 22: by Lily (new)

Lily Vagabond (lilyauthor) Btw, I got another example like Quentin's. In a writer's workshop, I wrote a short story set in New York state, 1930's. Buffalos are mentioned. Almost everyone had a screaming fit. Buffalos became extinct 200 years ago! Um, no, a few small herds were still roaming in the more plains areas and the rest are now in zoos. The plains is the only thing I wrote... It's not like I described a massive herd rampaging New York City. The countryside only. And, really, New York is a pretty big state. Yeesh.

But there you have it. I wasn't dealing with readers. I was dealing with critics, who, in my experience, are pretty much useless.


message 23: by Nathan (new)

Nathan Wall (goodreadscomnathanwall) | 182 comments Jacek wrote: "Quentin, but there's something called "common knowledge". You don't have to be an expert to know that there are no icebergs near the Equator, because it's a commonly known fact. But I suppose you h..."

Here's the thing. You will always have people who are going to tear shit apart. There are just those reviewers, for whatever reason, who just like to take books, open them up, and lay a huge Cleveland steamer on your heart and soul.

These people spend their time fact checking every little bit about every damn book they read, so that when they find something wrong, out of place, or fudged even a little just for the sake of plot and enjoy-ability of the story, they have ammunition.

Most people aren't like this. In fact, most people, if they have issues with such liberties taken with real world fact, they do what Renee said and just don't read it.

I think if the story is good, you don't have a death by a thousand cuts with multiple misspellings and bad grammar, and your characters are interesting, then the large majority of your readership just won't care.

However, if you have a problem with those Amazon scouring ass holes who look for every little thing to nitpick, then it's best to get your facts straight.

So the answer to your question, in this long-drawn out, totally on topic response, is another question: can you tolerate a Cleveland Steamer laid on your book?

If the answer is yes, then use the fact error for sake of plot. If the answer is no, set your story in Dallas. It's way better than New York anyway.

***Note, the rules for this are genre specific, as Jason already mentioned. If you're doing a legal thriller, get your facts straight. If this is mainly about sparkling vampires, no one cares. Though, you're still probably going to get turd dropped on your novel.

I hope this was not only helpful, but entertaining.


message 24: by Lily (new)

Lily Vagabond (lilyauthor) :D That was vey entertaining!


message 25: by Renee E (new)

Renee E | 395 comments Tinkering with facts is fine if you can make it plausible, but starting from an egregiously flawed premise is a different matter.


message 26: by Quentin (new)

Quentin Wallace (quentinwallace) | 388 comments Cleveland Steamer..now I can't stop laughing...


message 27: by Lily (new)

Lily Vagabond (lilyauthor) A bucket of common sense, and any author should be fine, I would think.

Of course, common sense is so rare these days it's almost a super power...


message 28: by Renee E (new)

Renee E | 395 comments Lily wrote: "A bucket of common sense, and any author should be fine, I would think.

Of course, common sense is so rare these days it's almost a super power..."


Rarer than buffalo roaming the streets of Noo Yawk! ;-)


message 29: by Lily (new)

Lily Vagabond (lilyauthor) Renee wrote: "Rarer than buffalo roaming the streets of Noo Yawk! ;-)"

Hehehe, you know, as an afterthought, I did think I should have written roaming the streets of NY city. It would have made a much more interesting story lol


message 30: by Jacek (new)

Jacek Slay Actually, Lily made a good point - it might be more about the critics than the readers per se. I just, somehow, merged the two groups altogether. After all, critics are also - to some extent - your readers, and readers are also - to some extent - your critics.

On the sidenote: I've seen a blog post from 2008 (would've linked but it's in Polish, so would be of no use anyway) focused on what the author calls "anal exiles" - that kind of people who whine "oh, but all the boxers in >>Rocky<< series would've died in real life like that", "oh, but you can't build a Death Star like that, "oh, but Alien can't grow that fast - and how can it have ACID for a blood?", "oh..." SHUT UP!


message 31: by Lily (new)

Lily Vagabond (lilyauthor) Jacek wrote: "Actually, Lily made a good point - it might be more about the critics than the readers per se. I just, somehow, merged the two groups altogether. After all, critics are also - to some extent - your..."

lol Yes, exactly :)


message 32: by Lynne (new)

Lynne Stringer | 179 comments Yes, if you're flying in the face of clearly established or easily researchable facts like whether or not a state has capital punishment I don't think it's a good idea if you want your book to be take seriously.


message 33: by Nathan (new)

Nathan Wall (goodreadscomnathanwall) | 182 comments Jacek wrote: "Actually, Lily made a good point - it might be more about the critics than the readers per se. I just, somehow, merged the two groups altogether. After all, critics are also - to some extent - your..."

Like I said, you just have people who like to bitch. People who complain about the Death Star or Aliens having acid blood are reading the wrong genre. These are science-fiction, and therefore take place outside conventional. truths.

Humans haven't achieved warp speed, but we can read stories about it because we know what it is. That's all well and good until you go into depth about how the warp speed works. When you do that, you should have some sort of basic knowledge of how it would work, and maybe a good explanation as to how the people in your story are able to pull it off.

So maybe the answer is in explaining the why. Why has New York decided to have the death penalty?

Maybe the question should be, why is New York the location for your book? Seems kind of cliche to me. Oh great, another story set in Los Angeles and New York. Is New York central to your plot, or are you just choosing it because it's got easily described locals, and it's a sexy choice?


message 34: by Jacek (new)

Jacek Slay So, once again, we're back to the access of the information. But how about said Grisham? He clearly states: "I totally made up all the laws and articles in my books"?

Crime fiction is another good example, because it refers to some convention. I believe there isn't a single book (we're still talking about fiction) that shows how an investigation REALLY looks like - and it's also very easily researchable (if not well-known). Does it mean we shouldn't take the whole genre seriously? Or does the convention justify those reality deviations - and if it does, to what extent?

Sorry for so many questions. :P


message 35: by Nathan (new)

Nathan Wall (goodreadscomnathanwall) | 182 comments All in all, if something "just is" in a story, and isn't the lynch pin to the whole thing working, then you could just be fine with whatever fact you want to conjure.

Aliens have acid blood. Fine. Not central to people dying on the ship, or whether or not Ripley makes it out alive. It's just another fact.

The moment you scrape the "why" then you better have some good reasons. Then again, this is SF.

With a legal thriller dealing with the death penalty, as long as you're not making that the "everything" about your novel, then you should be fine. People should accept that as a normal truth established in your novel, and not bitch about it when the cover clearly states "Death Penalty in NY." You can always try explaining the why, but then that has to be convincing.

In the end, you'll have readers who go through all your reasons and warnings and still decide to drop trou and squeeze one out on your book because New York doesn't have the death penalty.

Moral of the story, buy some good vapoorize and write what you want. It's all about delivering a good story, entertaining the reader, and accepting the bad reviews from those who just don't fit the readership. After all, look at all the bad reviews to kill a mockingbird has.


message 36: by Lily (new)

Lily Vagabond (lilyauthor) Heh, Grishamd didn't make up everything. He just fiddled. It's not literal.

I guess you can safely say that as long as the foundation of the story is accurate, everything else is an author's perogative. There's a police investigation, but all the reader sees is the alcoholic detective fighting with his wife. The foundation of the story, in this example, is about marriage troubles. The police investigation is the backdrop, if you see what I mean.

If you based a story in Canada and claimed the capital of the counry is in BC, when it's actually in Ontario, truth be told, that would stop my reading cold. Don't mess with the foundation. Or a Canadian reader. ;)


message 37: by Jason (new)

Jason Crawford (jasonpatrickcrawford) | 591 comments ...cold. Truth be told.

It's like you rhymed AND punned...

...sorry.


message 38: by Lily (new)

Lily Vagabond (lilyauthor) Jason wrote: "...cold. Truth be told.

It's like you rhymed AND punned...

...sorry."


Geez, it wasn't on purpose :P


message 39: by Jason (new)

Jason Crawford (jasonpatrickcrawford) | 591 comments Lily wrote: "Jason wrote: "...cold. Truth be told.

It's like you rhymed AND punned...

...sorry."

Geez, it wasn't on purpose :P"


Maybe not, but it WAS awesome.


message 40: by Lily (new)

Lily Vagabond (lilyauthor) Thanks? lol


message 41: by Justin (new)

Justin (justinbienvenue) | 1398 comments Mod
A lot of good points have been made and it's a great topic of wonder. I've come across this myself. I'm currently writing a book based in 1920's Shanghai and between the year and the place I constantly find myself researching to find facts because I wish my book to be accurate within reason to be possible.

I think most of you touched on it already but I see it was this, you want to make the book reasonable and chances are people won't care if certain things aren't fact. However certain things such as what Jacek said about execution may turn people off only because they have as it was said "common knowledge" and know that's not factual. If anything your really just doing justice for the topic your dramatizing especially one such as lethal injection but it really depends on you can work the idea and make it seem like it could happen.


message 42: by Michael (new)

Michael Benavidez | 1720 comments I think if it's based in a form of reality, you can tweak it to fit your story. but that's about it. readers can handle tweaking, especially if it's been done in a way that's believable and not too far fetched.


message 43: by Ashe (new)

Ashe Armstrong (ashearmstrong) The biggest thing is internal consistency.


message 44: by Tabitha (new)

Tabitha Vohn Jacek,

To quote George Costanza, "It's not a lie, if you believe it."

This may be an over-simplified answer to your dilemma, but speaking from my own experience, if you project confidence in your subject on the page (even if you are totally flying by the seat of your pants, making sh** up, what have you)your readers will buy into it.


message 45: by Brooks (last edited Apr 28, 2015 08:20AM) (new)

Brooks Kohler A writer needs to know that inside every reader is historian and English teacher waiting to school.

Could you defend your reason for not making it factually accurate? If you can, then write it however you want to, but be ready to bring an apple to class.


message 46: by Mary (new)

Mary Catelli | 232 comments the big problem is that

1. You are greatly outnumbered. A hundred or so readers alone are likely to have experts in all sorts of fields that would be thrown out by an "error."

2. And the reason I put "error" in quotes is that some of them are wrong, so there's no escape.

Personally I worry more about the people who are right, but there's only so much you can do.


message 47: by Martyn (new)

Martyn Halm (amsterdamassassinseries) | 154 comments I wrote two blog articles on Verisimilitude, which involves adherence to what we consider to be true.

What it comes down to is the story is true to the story's own integrity. If a story purports to be close to present reality (as my own work tends to be), the author should get their facts straight. If the work is 'fantasy' or 'paranormal', then the 'facts' are the realities that govern that particular world.


message 48: by Justin (new)

Justin (justinbienvenue) | 1398 comments Mod
I my opinion research is key for any book. Research ties into this because naturally you are looking into making your book as realistic and plausible as possible. While many comments go back and forth here comparing the two I think certain situations can't be one without the other because in order for the reader to really feel and grasp what's being told the author has t have "sold" it. The realism is not only thorough and accurate but it's actually possible as well.


message 49: by Ed (new)

Ed Morawski | 54 comments I'm sure that most readers know there is no capital punishment in New York (and California for that matter). That's just too big a fact to flaunt as others have said.

Many readers would feel cheated (me included) if they think you didn't do your research.

Research on subjects you don't know is critical, likewise if you know something is fact, why portray it otherwise?


message 50: by Justin (new)

Justin (justinbienvenue) | 1398 comments Mod
Research on subjects you don't know is critical, likewise if you know something is fact, why portray it otherwise?
^
This!


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