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August 30, 2018

I recently ran across a thread on one forum I check once in a while. I don’t go there that much because the threads I follow don’t get that much traffic. When they do, it’s often subject matter I have no interest in. This time, the thread brought me back to a subject I’ve discussed here at Fred Central a few times in the past but thought it deserved a fresh look.

How real is real?

That’s not exactly how it was put but that’s the gist of it.

The participant wanted to know about using some scientific principle in a horror setting. The gist was if what he proposed was real enough to come off as believable.


We’re story tellers. What we do is exaggerated reality. Often, it’s pure fantasy. It’s often not even close to reality. So what if it’s not real, you say…I say?


There’s always someone that’s going to spoil the fun by bringing reality into the mix.

Say, you want your fifty foot tall spider to wreak havoc on the city. Now, the science nerd comes in and spoils the fun by telling you you’re a charlatan because you don’t know diddly about science. An arachnid cannot possibly be that large because of physics. Their body weight will not support such giant proportions given the body type, their structure…etc.

That’s science people! Haven’t you EVER read a book?


It all depends on your particular genre, what you’re attempting to accomplish, your audience, and who you’re trying to please. You have to know who you’re going to satisfy, including yourself.

None of this matters if you’re writing from a reality-based viewpoint, such as a love story, western, drama, literary, so on and so forth. Then again, there’s still things like locations, weaponry, anything physical that can be based on reality that needs to be researched. This all has to be considered.

Strictly coming from a science fiction/fantasy/horror/thriller format, things can be stretched. It’s in these genres in particular that things get trickier.


In fantasy, it’s your own world. You can base it completely on your own rules as long as you’re consistent. On the other hand, you need to be consistent. At the same time, if you base it on reality fantasy, you must consider medieval principles like real swordplay and other weapons of the era, armor bla bla bla. That can get cumbersome and affect how your character reacts as well as everything else about your world, like everyday life.

In science fiction, even though it may be your own world, to a point, the rules are (or can be) a bit stricter when it comes to the science. Fans of the genre will only let you stretch things so far before you lose them. If you come up with principles that defy physics and logic, it had better be a really entertaining story to grab them or the science geeks are going to crucify you. Of course, almost ALL science fiction stretches reality. The point is that it DOES stretch reality. Making it believable is the point. However, it is, after all, based on some form of reality, or suggested reality.

In horror, reality is often thrown out the window. When an author tries to make it more authentic to make it creepier, some science nerd will still scoff at it as absurd, which is to be expected. The key is to not delve too deep into the principles of the how and why. Be vague. Maye throw in a bit if this and that but not specifics. If you’re going to have that fifty foot spider, you need to have some logic behind it, at least enough to satisfy the majority of your readers. It will never satisfy the science nerds, but that’s a given. Suspended disbelief.

In thrillers, they’re a mix of real world with a bit of fantastical thrown in. Quite often, they may be all reality based, but historically or physically impossible only in what happens, not that they couldn’t happen. In some, the actual things happening are science fiction elements thrown in as well. This is especially where the writer has to grab onto the science elements and dance around reality versus fiction and be able to suspend disbelief.


Real will never be completely real. After all, this IS what we call fiction! On the other hand, to make it as fictionally real as we can is how to grab the reader and pull them in. By not having the unreal things become so ridiculous that we lose the readers, we can entertain.

Researching the scientific principles behind some McGuffin we want to use in our plot only goes so far. In the end, we still have to stretch reality. We have to suspend the reader’s disbelief. Be vague on the details before you get yourself in too deep and have the science nerds crying foul!

Happy writing!

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