One of my favourite tropes is Reality Ensues (recently changed on TVTropes to ‘Surprisingly Realistic Outcome’), which describes the moments when authors like to point out the silliness of other tropes and that life doesn’t work that way. I love those moments. It shows the author’s attention to detail and that they won’t just follow the same old cliches. That said, there are a few unrealistic and inaccurate things that I don’t mind turning a blind eye to. I know that trying to introduce a bit of realism in these cases runs the risk of slowing the story down and making a scene less awesome than it is.
So, get ready to suspend your disbelief for the 6 inaccurate things in books that I just accept.
1 ft – Jumping Into Water Doesn’t Hurt
Something that’s shared by film, video games and books alike. Jumping into water might seem like a great escape, especially if a character is trying to fake their own death. Unfortunately, that trick works a bit too well. Hitting water from a great height has the same effect on the human body as hitting concrete from the same height. It will hurt. It will probably kill the character as certainly as the enemies who are cornering them. That said, it just looks awesome. Especially if there’s a bit of a fake-out when you don’t know whether or not the main character made it out or not. Maybe, one of those bullets shot into the water hit them. Maybe, they got swept away by the current. It makes a nice little moment of tension before we find out that, yes, our main character is fine. So, if there really is no option (or, better yet, if the main character had some kind of ,magic/tech to cushion the impact), I don’t altogether mind if the character jumps into water to escape the bad guys.
2 ft – Unrealistic Healing Times
Injuries take a long time to heal. If your character breaks their leg, then putting a splint on it is not going to get them back on their feet again. If they get slashed with a knife Waiting a long time for your character to heal, however, doesn’t make for very exciting writing (unless you’re writing a medical drama). A realistic time-skip to cover the injury healing time will solve most problems but most stories won’t let the hero hang about. A few quasi-magic healing herbs/tech here and there will keep the story going just fine. Just make sure it’s consistent with the story’s universe and I won’t make a big deal of it.
3 ft – Avoiding Certain Death/Punishment
The plot armour is strong in this entry. Now, don’t get me wrong. If it’s taken too far (take June from The Handmaid’s Tale TV series, for example), then I will take issue with it. If you’re creating a harsh government with draconian laws and death penalties handed out as frequently as parking tickets, the main character should not be allowed to get away with all their rebellions scot free or with the equivalent of a slap on the wrist just because that character is ‘special’ or ‘too popular’. Done sparingly and for a good reason, however, I will allow a few escapes. After all, killing off your main character mid-book would be a good shock but it doesn’t make for a good second half. So, don’t overdo the certain-death or certain-death-sentence scenarios. If you really must have them in spades, make sure the escapes are all original and interesting and make sure there’s some permanent consequences too e.g. the loss of a team member or a crippling injury. It makes the cycle feel a bit less repetitive.
4 ft – Sudden Mastery of Skills
Training montages might be good in films and shows but it’s hard to translate that well into text. So, either books skip over practice sessions unless something important is happening during one of the sessions. That said, skipping over the training scenes can sometimes make it look like the characters are mastering skills too easily. Especially if the main character is cramming years worth of practice into a small amount of time because they definitely, absolutely, need to learn this skill by the time the Big Bad is going to enact their Evil Plan. If a writer finds themselves in a position like that, enacting a risky and dangerous cheat that most responsible teachers won’t go near might get them out of it but it depends how I feel. What I like, however, is when an author takes this and puts a new spin on it or shows that there’s a heavy price to pay for skipping practice to get to perfection. The Song of Achilles did this particularly well. Achilles might not have to try very hard to be a combat master but that doesn’t mean that’ll help him avoid his fate. So, if the hero has to learn how to be a hero without putting hours of training, make sure that the cost is acknowledged and that the main character’s plot armour isn’t enough to allow them to dodge the physical consequences.
5 ft – No One Asks Too Many Questions When You Disappear For Ages
Yes, it’s annoying when parents get the wrong idea and ground the main character when they’re trying to save the world. It slows the story down and makes the authority figure look stupid. So, I don’t mind if the parents/authority figures show a bit more understanding and leniency but what I take issue with is the times when it goes too far and the questions/punishments have absolutely no effect on the character/story. Yes, A Blade So Black with its groundings that have absolutely no impact at all and only serve as a boring distraction, I am looking at you. A bit of awkwardness with authority figures is fine. You need to show that the main characters can’t get away with haring off to save the world without telling anyone. Just make the excuses the main character comes up with plausible. The person who’s asking will just look dumb if the main character gets away with it too easily. Be creative with the excuses and with the ways the main characters get around the punishments too. Show it has some permanent effect on the character’s relationships e.g. a lost friendship, parents at their wit’s end, etc. Like I said on my previous point, make sure the characters don’t get out of it too easy but don’t make it too hard either.
6 ft – Crazy Coincidences
I love a plot that feels like everything is falling into place. You need a few cliches and a fair bit of luck to get to the happy ending in any plot, there’s no denying that. The plot couldn’t move without a few incredible strokes of luck but you have to admit that the odds of some twists of fate are a million to one. It’s okay if there’s more than one small incidents where fate throws a curveball, either for the better or for worse. In fact, it can give me a good post-book giggle to think how unlikely that really is. However, if the whole plot seems to hinge on chance, it’s just going to look like an excess of author intervention. Unless you have a plausible in-universe reason for it (like the luck virus in that episode of Red Dwarf), keep everything probable. Show the readers that it was the main characters’ efforts that drove the story forward and that they can make their own luck rather than relying on it.
Do you agree with my list? Are there any other inaccurate things that you don’t mind very much? Let me know in the comments below!
I hope to see you again very soon.