Be Realistic in Your Fictional World

By Kristen
Updated November 24, 2007

Here we're talking about realistic in terms of what reality is in the story, not the real world we live in.

Realistic Obstacles and Goals

Obstacles and risks must fit together. The risks need to fit with the character's personality and goals (be realistic), and the obstacles need to fit the story (be realistic) as well as be important (the most important thing in your character's life at the moment).

Example: Jack is a stereotypical jock. He's failing drama class. Who cares? Jack doesn't because he's a jock, so why should we. The idea that failing drama is an obstacle to Jack's dream of being an actor is unrealistic because stereotypical jocks want to be professional athletes, not actors. However, you can make it realistic if you change his goals. Perhaps failing means that he will miss the big game because of his unsatisfactory GPA. Perhaps he secretly does want to be an actor but pretends to be interested in sports, and the idea of failing drama forces him to realize that he is sacrificing his dream for his reputation. Then there is the matter of priority. Who cares if jack is going to miss the big game if giant lizards are going to destroy the city? Unless your story is about how Jack succeeds in going on with life and achieving his dreams despite the destruction (or writing a satire), your audience is going to wonder why they should care about a character who has his foolish priorities.

Follow the Physics of Your World

If your world has its own set of physics, cultural practices, or biological responses, make sure that you stay true to them the entire story. Once you stray from the laws you create in your story, those laws lose all credibility. A reader should never be left to wonder why a character who flies didn't just fly instead of falling off the cliff. A character cannot stand in the weightlessness of space. If your normally gregarious protagonist, who lives in a gregarious culture, suddenly decides to become a loner, he needs to have a good reason for doing it.