PDA

View Full Version : How unrealistic can something be?



Ugawa
01-27-2010, 01:52 AM
Okay. I know that Iím probably making a fool out of myself for asking this, but how realistic does something have to be when itís set in the real world?

After writing 70K of useless prose within the last 2 months, Iím finally ready to embark on a serious novel again while Mr. ITC is with agents.

Iím going back and rewriting Abbey Boys -- which I started over a year ago now -- but with some changes.

The main plot is about a group of orphaned boys who are brought up in an abbey which has been overtaken by a corrupt government official. The abbey is underground and the boys arenít allowed outside, and near the end the MC finds out that theyíre going to die once they hit legal age to leave since Ďthe world doesnít need more scum on the streetí. But then Iím thinking, why would they wait until the boys are at a legal age to leave before killing them? Perhaps the government official is getting money for each boy under his charge. Then Iím thinking, if heís getting money for each one, then the higher ups are going to realize that these boys are disappearing.

Anyway.

Originally it was set in the 1950s after world war 2, since I thought maybe during this time in England it would be possible for this sort of thing to happen. Then I thought, perhaps turn it into a dystopian and have the boys be experimented on as well as cooped up in the abbey. Then I thought about keeping the original idea, not say when itís set, and keep in mind that itís my world Iím portraying here.

Needless to say, Iím confused and wondered if anyone else has ever had this type of problem before? Advice would be soo appreciated.

IceCreamEmpress
01-27-2010, 02:45 AM
A novel set in the real world we live in has to be realistic. You can have an imaginary county of Barsetshire, and an imaginary cathedral town of Barchester, but you can't have everyone in Barchester driving a red or black car because of a 2002 law making it illegal to drive blue cars in England.

A fantasy novel has to be internally consistent. You can have a magical wizards' academy with a sport involving chasing an animated ball on flying brooms, but you can't suddenly decide in book 6 that Harry Potter was a soccer star all along, not a Quidditch player. If one of your characters is a vampire in chapter 3, she can't be a werewolf instead in chapter 9. If one of your characters is killing women named Monica because of an ancient curse, the same curse can't inspire him to kill a man named Kent just because it's convenient to your plot.

Your book has to make sense on its own terms. This is one of the hardest parts of writing; fiction has to be more consistent than truth.


Originally it was set in the 1950s after world war 2, since I thought maybe during this time in England it would be possible for this sort of thing to happen.

Because why? Your idea has to make sense. Does something like this happen because of infrastructure issues after the war? Does it happen because the head of the abusive orphanage is skilled at manipulating an overworked social services system?

Also, why does it happen? I don't think you've worked that out yet. What does the head of the abusive orphanage gain by keeping the children captive rather than just killing them?

You could look at actual abusive orphanages that really existed, and see why the people in charge were able to get away with them for so long, as a resource.

Ugawa
01-27-2010, 02:55 AM
Because why? Your idea has to make sense. Does something like this happen because of infrastructure issues after the war? Does it happen because the head of the abusive orphanage is skilled at manipulating an overworked social services system?

Also, why does it happen? I don't think you've worked that out yet. What does the head of the abusive orphanage gain by keeping the children captive rather than just killing them?

You could look at actual abusive orphanages that really existed, and see why the people in charge were able to get away with them for so long, as a resource.

This is the reason I thought about changing the setting. I'm pretty sure I learned in history that a lot of records were lost after ww2, and so it would be easier for people to slip through the system.

And I've been reading memoirs written by people who grew up in these sort of situations. It's given me a real insight, but not really answering the 'why' the abuse happened. Hmm..

It seems that I have quite a lot to think about.

Thanks :)

katiemac
01-27-2010, 02:57 AM
Michael Crichton made us believe humans could genetically recreate dinosaurs. I realize this isn't the same thing you are talking about, but there is a line where you can make readers suspend belief if you build it credibly enough.

I suspect the issue you may be having, Ugawa, has more to do with logic than realism.

Nivarion
01-27-2010, 06:30 AM
They every story gets one really big lie to use. Two if your good.

You mentioned making it a dystopian society. It could be the orphanage boss' job to care for the orphans, but the society is just giving him something to do. They don't really want the kids running around because they're different and they want a sameness among their people.

And that's about the only idea fodder I have right now.

Phaeal
01-27-2010, 06:01 PM
I suspect the issue you may be having, Ugawa, has more to do with logic than realism.

This. The administrator has to have a good reason for keeping the boys alive up until a given point. Otherwise, why wouldn't he kill them right away?

Could be he gets to have fun torturing them for a while. Could be he's paid for their upkeep until age 18. Could be he's experimenting on them. Could be he's repeatedly draining their youthful energy through diabolical magic or machine. But he must have a reason beyond "Well, it's what the author needs me to do for the plot."

brokenfingers
01-27-2010, 06:09 PM
You can be unrealistic about anything except human nature. If the motivations, desires, actions, reactions etc. aren't something people would normally do, not only will readers not be able to relate (unless you explain why the reactions are different etc.) but they'll think it's "unrealistic" and lose interest.

If people think: "That's stupid" or "Nobody would do that!" then you'll have a problem.

DeadlyAccurate
01-27-2010, 06:44 PM
Then Iím thinking, if heís getting money for each one, then the higher ups are going to realize that these boys are disappearing.

Not if they never check on the place. Maybe because of overwork and bureaucratic snafus, no one ever visits the place. He keeps getting checks long after the kid's dead.

As for why he's killing them at a certain age: he killed the first kid by accident, letting his rage get the better of him. He swore it would never happen again, but he also got away with it. No one ever noticed the boy went missing. Then maybe a few years later, another teenage boy smarted off, and he killed him. And maybe that set it in his mind that once they reach a certain age, they become horrible people, and he feels he's doing the right thing by getting rid of them then.

But he's no monster! Heaven forfend! He'd never kill children. And that's why he never kills them before a certain age.

People get weird ideas in their head that don't always make sense to the outside world. As long as they have a reason for doing what they do, and as long as the reader eventually understands that, we can buy a lot of strange human behavior.

dirtsider
01-27-2010, 07:07 PM
Also, does your headmaster have to be the one killing them, personally, or can he ship these boys out to people once they reach a certain age to be killed? If the second option is possible, the headmaster looks like a wonderful man but in reality, he's still as much a monster as if he killed the boys himself. Perhaps he's raising the boys for organ 'donations'. That would be a reason why he'd keep them alive. Perhaps he's running a work house where child labor works better than adult labor (when they can assert their rights on their own). Perhaps he's tapping into the hormonal surges of puberty for some diabolical reason and it drains them dry. Then he 'sends' them off to new homes once they reach their majority but in truth, they're either already dead or they die soon after.

Ugawa
01-28-2010, 02:44 AM
Wow. All this advice has been so helpful. I'm halfway through plotting the whole thing out again, and everyone has really boosted my confidence with it.

I'm glad I wasn't completely off my rocker with this one.

thank you so much.
x

kuwisdelu
01-28-2010, 02:48 AM
As unrealistic as you want it to be, as long as you establish that tone at the beginning.

It just have to conform to its own internal logic — or lack thereof, if you go with that sort of tone, too.

STKlingaman
01-28-2010, 02:55 AM
You can make a planet of Jello
if you want. Where people are
entirely made of Marshmallows,
and jellybeans are grenades, that
change the flavor of the marshmallow
people.
And when conventional weapons, and humans
come all their fancy technology is useless.

As long as you're consistent, and the
characters are believable - editors, publishers,
and agents will tell you whether its sellable.