Believability

Hey, chaps, sorry for the several day gap in posts.  Spring cleaning on the farm and yours-truly got drafted, hence the lack of writing.

Today, I’ll address what I call “believability”.  Yes, it’s a word, if only because I just made it up, in order to explain the idea and, after all, isn’t that what words are for?

Believability is the word I like to apply to the quality of a story (fiction), that engages the reader and suspends his disbelief.  Now, a reader believes in the real world because…….well, because it’s real.  But, as many philosophers might argue, we don’t know whether this world is real or not.  Barring a Matrix-type computer grid, or some sort of magic trance, however, we can assume that we live in the real world.

This real world shapes our expectations of reality, meaning that when we read a book of fiction, in order for our suspended disbelief to remain suspended, the book has to have certain earmarks that we associate with reality.  In a story that is intentionally nonsense or unreal, this can, of course, be dispensed with.  Alice in Wonderland, or the numerous stories of Oz by Mr. Baum are both examples of this.  No serious attempt at keeping with reality is made, for the entirety of the story rests upon unrealistic events and worlds.  The very quaintness and allure of the story rests within the ridiculous lack of realism.  Without it, they wouldn’t be the same, at all. 

However, if one looks closely enough, certain amounts of realism DO peep through, shrouded though they are in absurdity.  The ridiculous, easily halted quarrels between Dee and Dum, are over something quite substantial: a rattle.  Many real world quarrels reach bloody proportions, over things hardly more important.  The strange occasion where the White Queen screams in pain about a pin-prick that is going to happen.  Real life people literally worry themselves sick over things that have yet to happen and, indeed, may not happen at all.

The believability of such books is suspect, if existent at all.  More interesting studies lie in the celebrated science fiction and fantasy books of earlier times.  Verne was not only a master of realism, but also a master of prediction.  The real world culmination of his ideas lends even more believability to his works, which are already highly believable.  In “20,000 Leagues under the Sea” the least realistic character, Nemo himself, is shown in the end to be the most realistic.  A sea-captain, who is surrounded in an air of immutable mystery, becomes a man who used his wealth to destroy those who have hurt him.  Nothing could be more mundane or more real.

The Lord of the Rings, a grand epic in the old style, can be ‘boiled down’ to show little more than an embellished parable of how the small people can be the most important.  A lesson that is driven into us quite often in daily life.  The Worm Ouroboros, another such epic, is the simple tale of a war beginning with enmity, continuing with revenge, and finishing with a victory for justice and a return to the first scene of the endless cycle.  Another such lesson, if one that requires a little more concentration to see in the real world.

In a fantasy book written in a serious tone, believability can be difficult to write, or very easy, but it is always a crucial component.   A unrealistic motivation for the main character can result in disinterested readers.  The “supreme bad guy”, doing ridiculous things that allow the hero to win easily, the consistent insertion of miraculous helpers at crucial moments that allow good to triumph, the sudden appearance of bit of information to one side or the other that will tip the balance……………………….easy traps, easy pit-falls for the writer.  And all quite unrealistic.

I admit, I fall into the error of un-realism and catch myself reading back through my book, saying “Wow, that is bad”.  Then I go for the next edit, doing my best to ensure just enough realism amongst the imagination. 

To misquote one of the best lines in one of my favorite movies: “Believability….always………believability.”Movie:  Singing in the Rain

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