Thinking about Realism
Maybe it's not everyone's cup of tea, but something I pride myself on in my stories is realism in fantastic situations. But realism has meant a lot of different things over the decades. Way, WAY back in the day it meant stories like Wuthering Heights or any of the other Bronte-style stories. They were real. They weren't like the gallant adventures of Arthur or Odysseus. But they were a little too dry.
Certainly not knocking them, just following the trend for realism. What came next was this idea of realistic reactions regardless of the scenario. This is what I like. Unfortunately time moved on and somewhere around the '90s the term realism changed and now realism is usually preceded by "gritty." Everything is dark. There is no happy ending. Everyone has PTSD. There's a lot of unnecessary cursing. Everyone is dark and brooding. This isn't what I'm going for.
I've been trying to stress what I mean in my query letters by using the phrase "realism in fantastic situations." It's not about my characters being gritty or cussing (though some do their fair share), it's about balancing suspension of disbelief in the fantastical elements while making characters' reactions to those elements real. It's really just as simple as saying "what would I do if..."
I think this gets overlooked quite often in world building. Lots of people prefer to let their imaginations run wild, and while that's fine, they never follow through with the realistic consequences. If your world has magic, you need to know what effect that will have on daily life. What will that change about money? About jobs? Technology? Relationships?
Let's say your world has psychics. Those psychics better be rich. And is there a government restriction on them using this ability? If it's the future-seeing kind, casinos would have tons of ways to detect and deter them. I lived in Vegas, they don't let you use perfectly normal means to increase your odds, psychics would be screened and logged extensively. What if it's the mind reading kind? Government agencies would be on them in a hot minute. Even if they're satisfied with being a barista, no government would want a security risk like that going around unchecked.
What if people can fly? That would change everything about transportation. And security! Fences would give way to enclosures. Would people wear parachutes in case something happened to them in mid-flight? What would this do to public transport?
In case you're wondering about my world, I try to make sure that people's reactions to events are in keeping with the real world. Where would werewolves live? Running around in the woods isn't a sustainable life. How many people would know about the world of the magic and monsters? How would that be kept in check? How does a clandestine group manage monster hunting and payroll?
Just things to think about.
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Keep your eyes open for my debut novel, The Paladin.