Real vs. Believable

As writers of fiction, and particularly of the fiction of the fantastic, we encounter a constant tension between writing things in a way that feels real and a way that is real. It’s a complex dance and one that involves different steps for different writers. Some will prefer to come closer to the actions of a real person, like you or I as we would imagine ourselves to be, acting in a given situation. Some of us see it as an opportunity to create people who make better decisions than we would or worse, more extreme in any case.

I tend to fall into the latter camp. I write fantastic fiction in part because it gives me the chance to write heroes and villains who are larger than life, more noble and more villainous. They’re wittier, nastier, and smarter, but also generally less complex and less ambiguous than real people. They’re surer of their motives and, most importantly, more fun to read about (at least in my opinion).

Fun is an element that doesn’t get talked about enough in writing. I’m a strong believer that reading should be an act that brings joy to the reader, and part of that is fun. Real life can get pretty dismal at times and part of the reason that fiction exists is as an escape and inspiration for those times, a way to transcend the mundane. Escapism isn’t something to be ashamed of, it’s a high virtue of fiction.

So, give yourself permission to make the choice that should be real instead of the one that is real from time to time. Not only is it more satisfying, it often makes for better stories. Not more real, better.

Ironically, choosing what should be real over what is real may also make a story more believable, because what people want to believe has a huge effect on what they do believe.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog November 5th 2006. Reposted as part of the reblogging project)