One of the biggest enticements to write fiction is the ability to express ourselves through vivid use of imagination. We can do, say, and create virtually any reality we want on the page simply through a few pencil or keystrokes. Nowhere is this truer than in science-fiction and fantasy, where we are given virtually a clean slate to create everything right down to the very world in which the story is set. And our readers are well aware of this. So what, one might ask, has believability got to do with any of it? And the answer is (at least if you are going for a successful book): everything.
Readers of fiction are attracted in part by the fact that they can become mentally absorbed in the story they are reading. However, this means that they must be able to relate it to the world they know. Therefore, unless it is an integral part of the plot, you shouldn’t throw in some kind of notable inconsistency in the way your world works. A system of magic, for example, must have some sort of rules that guide it’s usage, just as a space expedition must follow certain conventions (e. g. people can’t breathe in space unless they are some kind of superhumans or aliens in disguise).
So then, how does one make a world more relatable or believable? The foremost way would be to do some research on the appropriate topics. If your story involves dinosaurs engaging in Medieval-style combat, you may want to learn something about dinosaurs and warfare of the Middle Ages. You don’t have to be an expert in the field, but it certainly helps. And the chances are, if you’re taking the time to write a book about something, it’s probably something you either already know at least a little bit about or want to in future.
There are a number of ways to go about this, and the more you use, the better. Books are a good starting place without a doubt, and you can often get everything you need out of one or two solid volumes on the subject. However, there are also videos, documentaries, and in many cases sound recordings that can assist as well if you are more of an audio/visual learner. Take notes if you feel the need–they may even give you a new spark of inspiration somewhere down the line.
Another way to learn about a topic would be to consult known experts. In fact, this can be much less time-consuming than any other method, as you can target your questions toward information that is specifically relevant to your needs. If you happen to know someone who is well acquainted with your subject of study, great! If you ask politely, he or she will probably help you out with whatever you need to know. However, in other cases, you may have to go looking for experts to ask. Odds are there’s someone out there who holds the answers you need. Some will agree to help you freely. Others may charge for their services, or decline to assist at all. Whatever the case, it never hurts to look.
In summary, realism is essential to just about any good story, however fantastical it may be. The key to attaining this realism is to be consistent, do your research, and remember: The better you understand how things work in the real world, the better you can make them work in your world. As a former instructor of mine once said, “You have to know the rules before you can break the rules.”
I won’t be posting anything substantial for the next couple of weeks (except reminders that there are no posts), so happy first day of winter to my tiny readership, and I’ll see you in 2021!