A way with worlds: 47 - The Realism Factor
by Steven Savage of Seventh Sanctum
Page 1 of 2
You've created a world you
consider realistic for stories or role-playing games. Or perhaps
a tale of your world, original or not, is hailed for its realism.
Realism seems to be
something worldbuilders and writers and gamemasters aspire to
have in their creations. However, that does lead to the
interesting question of just what is realism in the settings you
create or use? What is this quality of realism that's so valued?
This is an odd question when
you consider that stories, games, and many settings are, when you
get down to it, made up in short, unreal. Even historical
fiction has an "unrealistic" quality to it in that,
though there are many elements we consider real, the stories told
are created whole or in part from the writer's imagination.
Realism is a trickster. When
we try to grasp it, it's difficult. It's never where we reach and
always seems to sneak up on us in a moment of "that
works" or "wow, your story was great."
And that is because, I
believe, in writing fiction and creating fictional worlds, there
are two kinds of realism that we fuse into one: Internal and
External Realism. If you don't have both, you don't have that
realistic sense you want.
Internal realism is consistency within your setting that
is different significantly from people's actual, real-life
experiences. This is the part of your world with the magic, the
dragons, the superheroic powers, and the people who didn't exist
The major requirement of
Internal Realism be that it is consistent. Yes, you may have a
world with dragons - but if you give the dragons consistent
behavior and abilities and perhaps even culture, they will have
their own kind of believability. Or perhaps you've got some
made-up soldiers in a World War II story - make sure they have
believable pasts and personalities.
A lack of Internal Realism
will lead to confusion among your readers - and confusion in
keeping track of cause and effect in your world. As weird as your
world may be, consistency will mean it can be understood by your
External realism is the part of the world that's like
the world of the reader - our world (or what passes for it). It
could be historical events, believable technology, and, the most
important - believable characters. External Relism is what people
comprehend and can understand as they've experienced it
Characterization is usually
the most important part of External Realism. No matter how wild
your world may be, how bizarre the elements of Internal Realism,
if people can relate to your cast because they are believable and
understandable, you've got your reader.
A lack of External Realism
will make it hard for people to relate to your world as there
will be too much they don't understand and not enough that they
External Realism is the
gateway for your readers, the hook that lets them understand the
In fact, the two have to go
hand in hand . . .Next Page
Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Steven Savage, sffworld.com. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.