Munday Prompt: Realism

1. How important is realism to you when you roleplay or write?

As a writer, I think it is very important. Even when you are dealing with Fantasy or what most would consider supernatural topics, you have to have at least a little grounding in what is ‘real’ vs. what no intelligent reader could possibly suspend their disbelief through. I take it seriously enough that I am willing to do the necessary research, interview people, do a little hands-on experimentation all in the name of putting a more ‘real’ experience down on the page. Thankfully, I am old enough and have experienced enough of life to actually be able to know a fair amount of the time what I am actually talking about.

2. What steps do you take to ensure a realistic character concept or setting?

This is again about research, and sometimes the legwork can take a great deal longer than what some who write more flash-type of fiction have time for. Knowing social taboos of a particular region or era, being conscious of the colloquialisms of the day, knowing the proper way to prepare certain herbs, the medicinal properties of those herbs, how long it takes to travel from one point to another, all of these things lend to the realism of the post. I think I owe it to my readers, and certainly to my muses to have actually done that level of research in order to put out the best material that I can.

3. When is the right time to use the magic of handwavey goodness (i.e.: it just works because you say it works)?

Never.

At least that is my opinion and how I apply it to myself. Others can ignore this if they want to. Especially when they are “creating their own worlds”. I will freely admit that this is one area which is an incredible pet peeve of mine. Perhaps I am being a bit unreasonable when I say that if you are using magic in your posts, then by God/dess you had damned well better know the mechanics of magic(k) and know how ritual structure actually works. In my view, you absolutely need to know, how the mindset works, what the Magickal Self is vs. the Mundane Self is about. If you talk about a Ritual, then you need to know how Ritual Drama works and what things appear in those dramas and the mechanics of the ritual. If I see one more piece of fiction where one of the characters is ritually sacrificed with an Athame, I am going to myself draw some blood from that writer. I cannot stand that level of ignorance. There is absolutely no excuse for that.

The dynamics of the mind of the magician, sorcerer, Faery, angel, demon, etc. – you need to know that, too. You need to have done the research, know what the sigils and symbols actually look like, what they are most likely made of and why. You had also better know the folklore and the reason why your character is doing what they are doing and for what purpose and possible end results whether they succeed or fail. Why are you using X herb or item in a Ritual that is completely opposite of what your intent is? Why did you invoke that God or Goddess? Do you have any idea what the mythology is behind that Deity, or did you just pick some name in a book that sounded cool? Does the writer have the first clue as to what any of the assembled items that their characters are working with do? I have run into this countless times with regard to my Patron Goddess, for example. As a writer who does delve into these areas, I think I owe these things to my readers, my characters, my students and also to other practitioners of the Art, too. Even when I talk about Fanny “cutting a doorway” from the seen world into one of the other Seven Realms of Existence” – that part is real. When you cast a Circle, you don’t just go in and out at Will – you cut a doorway! What do you think the idea of Parting the Mists or sailing to Lothlorien is?

It is at all times and in all situations best for a writer to know what the hell they are talking about or someone, somewhere is going to call them on it. It’s that or end up the butt of someone’s diatribe on how you the writer don’t know anything about the subject matter and that your works are best left on the shelf – assuming you ever get that far. Am I a practising Herbalist/ Priestess/ Witch / Magickian? Absolutely. I have the experience to back up what I am writing about and have been in this stuff since my early teens. Do I know what I am talking about? Most days I can claim a fairly good command of what I am doing. Some days…eh, I sort of blow it. Hey, that’s Life. I do honestly and truly believe that writing is a lot like Ritual or Magickal work: you get out of it what you put into it. If you are half-assed about your research and your efforts, then that’s exactly the kind of results you are going to get out of it. If you plan and pay attention to details, you stand a much greater chance of success and getting what you want out of it. Although just about everyone understands that the mystic woo-woo can only take you so far. The rest is up to the writer to make it work.

I think this is probably my biggest beef with Hollywood writers. 98% of them have absolutely no clue as to anything of what I just said above and would just stare at me blankly That’s ok, The fact that they have not done the homework themselves means someone like me gets hired as a consultant. I’m all for that. Or if the writer / director / producer etc does know, someone has it in mind that big explosions and special effects are going to carry them through the problem of the audience needing to suspended disbelief. It might. But why take that chance? Is it not possible to have credibility and believability and you can throw in some flash pods if you must. Even the Magicians and Sorcerers of old made use of that sort of thing as a means to impress.

Even when you are making up a world, even when you have abilities that are pure fantasy, there has to be something there a foundation upon which to build. Even Tolkien understood this. He borrowed heavily from Norse Mythologies, Welsh languages, and he had a fairly good command of Faery lore…and believe it or not , a certain degree of understanding of magickal practice. I know of one Wiccan Tradition that is completely based off of the ideals and culture of Lothlorien. The founder of this particular Tradition is a respected author of magical and occult books as well.

4. How close to real world dynamics (science/physics/etc) do you keep?

It depends on the “real” world we are talking about. If we are talking about the seen, that is one set of rules. The rules of science and physics will apply. If you are talking about the Unseen worlds, then you would apply certain laws of metaphysics and magickal dynamics. The reality is that there are entities and situations that defy our senses of time, space, etc. There are people that hear and talk to animals, plants, the dead, etc. Others would think that these things are just nuts and no matter what you do to recount what you have seen, heard, or experienced, getting them to wrap their heads around what you describe may or may not happen. Those who know will get it, and those who don’t won’t. The Mysteries protect themselves.

My favourite authors, the ones that are most successful have done their homework. My favourite author, Diana Gabaldon, who wrote the ‘Outlander’ series really impressed me in that she not only knew her history, she took the time to know about medical practices in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. She knew about herbs and what ones were indigenous to where her characters were, the prevalence of apothecaries in Paris and what the did, and the very real possibility that the proprietor of said establishment also knew about magical practices and fraternities of the day, and she quite accurately knew who the players of that time period were – and the scandals going on at the time. Gabaldon herself has a degree in science and was well established in that field long before she was writing fiction, so her attention to detail on all levels makes her fiction work – even the aspects of a woman who just after WWII in the mid 20th Century, somehow finding a time portal in an ancient Scottish henge and being zapped back to the 18th century – believable. These sorts of things to me make even the fantastic rooted in some reality at the very least.

5. How close do you keep to real world time? (ie: Do pregnancies, injuries, etc occur within a real world time frame, or are they abbreviated for story purposes?)

Well, obviously I try to stay as close as possible to real world timelines. Pregnancies do take nine months generally, unless the birth is premature or the gestation period of the being is longer or shorter. Sometimes real world interrupts what you are writing about and so you may end up having to speed things up just a little bit. Obviously, we all can’t just sit around as writers waiting for an imaginary muse baby to gestate, but you can certainly write about the passage of time as it would apply to the storyline – or at least infer it.

6. How realistic are the mechanics of your technology / weaponry? (ie: Does the hero ever run out of bullets, or does he have as much ammo as he needs as long as there are bad guys to shoot?)

I wrote a screenplay in which one of the characters, the anti-hero had a shoot out with the other side and he did run out of bullets. How he survived that moment was incredible in that the person who was about to deal the shot to kill the anti hero was himself shot by his own sister. The force of that shot, since she was pretty tiny, pretty much knocked her on her ass, but she blew out the entire back of her brother’s head. I did a bit of research as to what sort of damage a head shot would do at what range. That was kind of fun, actually. Yay,y for forensics books!

If you write about a character who is a falconer, as Fanny’s husband, Rochefort is, for example, you probably should know a little bit about the sport. Wide-eyed enthusiasm for having a fierce “pet bird” on one’s arm may have its appeal for some – but do you have any idea what it actually feels like to cast a hawk off the fist or when one lands on it? It’s about as forceful as a baseball bat connecting to the ball. And that bird is not a pet, it’s never a pet, and when you are in the sport, you either have to hire someone full time to take care of that bird, or you have no life.

In short, you have to do the research. You have to understand the impact of what you write is on the lives of your characters and those around them. This adds to believability.

7. Is realism important to tell the story, or is the overreaching plot more important than the minute details?

I think you really can get caught up in the minutiae but at the same time, too, a small detail that is inaccurate can turn off your reader and at that point you’ve lost them. A perfect example of this is Dan Brown’s very famous book, “The DaVinci Code”. The plot is wonderful, and it definitely made an impact on the book buying and movie going public. However, when I read the first section of the book and Brown was discussing Ancient Egyptian mythology and the different aspects of Isis and Ra, etc and how it all tied to what the main character, a symbolist of some renown, was talking about and someone else. What this character was saying was not only horrifyingly wrong, but it was obvious Mr. Brown was probably using Egyptological sources that were at least 150 years out of date. To someone who has studied these things and has an Egyptologist in the family, it was an almost unpardonable sin. The poor book narrowly escaped the fate of being unceremoniously hurled across the room in absolute disgust. It took some coaxing to get me to finish the book . But I find it interesting that this one detail, which would have been insignificant to most people who were reading it, was heinous as far as I was concerned. It created in my mind the idea that Mr. Brown clearly didn’t “get it” and I was no longer interested in anything else he had to say.

The trick is to not get bogged down with details and spend a chapter and a half describing something to the Nth degree. That isn’t helpful to the reader either. Flow and movement in plot is very important, however even the best plot can be derailed if you totally fuck up the details enough and in just the right way.

8. Is there ever such a thing as too much realism?

It depends. I think realism can lend itself to a story. I don’t mind giving impressions to describe a scene or an object, a moment – but when it goes on and on and on – then less is more.

9. What real life issues / mechanics / dynamics are too sensitive or difficult to tackle in roleplaying or writing?

None. I am pretty willing to push the envelope as to what I am comfortable writing. I will say it took a very long time to get comfortable writing sex. You have to trust your writing partners and you have to be able to push each other and build on a good foundation. I only write with those whom I completely trust anymore. There are too many people who have intimated very bad experiences to me and I have had a couple that were less than desirable as well. All in all, however, I do believe that even the negative experiences or the ones that didn’t quite work out did serve me in some way, and I am grateful for that.

Those same select writers have also helped me in writing violent and sometimes non politically correct scenes. I have been on both ends of having been encourage and the one doing the encouraging to get that other person to push a little more, to go a little further than their comfort level might have allowed before. It all comes from dialogue both IC and OOC. And something doesn’t work, not being afraid, any of us, to put the bus into reverse and start over. We all make mistakes, we can get a scene wrong or we are in the middle of it and something isn’t working. We aren’t afraid to tweak it a little more or to just drop it entirely. That’s the beauty of writing with other mature, adult writers who are equally eager to see how far they can push themselves and each other. And I cannot thank them enough, I cannot sing enough of their praises or express my gratitude enough to them for those gifts that they bring me every single day. (Yeah, you all know who I’m talking about! I see you there lurking!) 😉

10. Does a lack of realism always impact believability? Is it possible for a character to be unrealistic, yet believable within a certain setting?

Anything is possible. I think in Fantasy and Folklore and sometimes even in Historical fiction, (and especially in screenwriting!) you do have to be able to write about events that are unbelievable. The saying, “Fact is stranger than fiction,” is so very often true. Just because my experiences are not the same as that of the main character, be they in an antagonist, protagonist or supporting role, does not mean that I have the right to sit there and judge the whole thing as being beyond believable. Our minds stretch for a reason. Anyone who has been in the magick or occult or who has done any sort of ritual work can tell you, we see things that definitely gives us pause. The miraculous and the mysterious is all around us if we but look for it. What is more frightening to me are those who claim to have never seen anything extraordinary or have never witnessed anything that was beyond what they could wrap their heads around. Those sorts of people I am very suspicious of, and frankly think they either are full of shit or have all the awareness of a cold, limp dishrag.

11. Does realism (or a lack thereof) impact who or what you will allow your characters to interact with?

Not necessarily. I mean, really, how believable is a woman who is half Fae, half Scottish who is at present 565 years old and who brought her dead husband back from the grave? How believable is a woman during the 16th Century reigning alone for over 40 years in a time and place where women were deemed unfit to rule – only to be acknowledged later as probably the greatest monarch that the world has ever known, and her rule spawned the likes of William Shakespeare and Dr. John Dee, and her spymaster, Walsingham was the grandfather of modern day MI6? How realistic is a Lebanese woman, educated in the West, daughter of a drug lord to be kidnapped by one of his competitors and her father sends, not men to retrieve her and bring her back safely, but rather instead sends her own brothers to find her and do an honour killing for the good of the family’s reputation? That last story, btw, is quite rooted in reality. Reality is what spawned that particular story.

Life itself IS extraordinary. Real is what we make it and what we decide to participate in. As I have mentioned, I have seen and lived through things that most people would not believe – and yet I was there, they did happen. I’ve seen others go through equally strange and unbelievable events, too. Isn’t this where our stories begin? We have to have some level of perception to connect it all back to.

12. How have real world issues and dynamics affected your character’s development or plots?

I do read the news, and certain world events and issues have made their way into various parts of my fiction. It is inevitable, if you are a writer, you participate in the world as a whole. If you don’t, then you need to step away from your monitor, go outside and experience it.

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