The Argument For: Applying Realism to Fantasy

Any Game of Thrones fan surely noticed that the writing from this last season has slipped. I will avoid giving spoilers, but surely many noticed that multiple times, great distances were traveled almost instantly, crossing the vast continent of Westeros multiple times, usually ignoring the actual method of travel and often ignoring the time pressure of the always impending White Walkers. For some, it was breaking a sense of immersion or disbelief. Others had the reaction of “it’s a show about zombies and dragons; why attach realism to it?”

Here’s why.

When you read, watch, listen, or otherwise consume media, you’re applying your suspension of disbelief. In other words, you’re choosing to become emotionally involved with the characters for the sake of their story. Everything the people responsible for creating that story is done with that one fact in mind. You as the audience member are the participant willing to be taken for the ride. If that ride is ruined for you, for whatever reason, there is no pulling back. It’s like going to Disney World just for a picture of Mickey and then finding out that he’s not at the park for the day. The entire trip is ruined.

As writer’s, we create our suspension of disbelief via worldbuilding. Whether it’s a contemporary drama set in New York, 2003, or a high fantasy comedy set in Fartbilkington, Central Glordon, 761, every rule we establish must be maintained. That means no iPhones in 2003. And if in Glordon, all elves have pointy ears, then a round ear humanoid can’t be an elf.

When you break suspension of disbelief without giving its due, you weaken your story. It pulls the reader out of it. That’s why having rules or systems are important. If your characters can teleport, why haven’t they been teleporting the whole time? If it takes less time to travel cross-continent then it does to move from a small fishing village via boat, how is your slowly approaching doom any threat?

So when you’re writing, pay attention to the world you’re establishing. Travel that takes weeks should take weeks, even if you handwave the time behind “three weeks later”. If something floats upwards when it burns in your story, then don’t put your villain standing in front of a fireplace, even if the setting seems perfect for it. If you simply must break an established rule, give an excuse, even a bad one. “This? It’s a prototype for some new phone Apple is making.” Sure, your reader might roll their eyes, but at least those eyes will end up on the next page, and not on Google fact-checking your inconsistencies.

There are probably countless more examples of blatant handwaving. Got any favorites? Disagree with me? Let me know! Click “Leave a comment” just below the title of the post and give me your two cents. Please. I’m broke.

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