Reality vs Believability

A couple of days ago Lucy Hay of @Bang2write fame posted a series of tweets in frustration about complaints about “reality” in films inspires, I believe, by reactions to Jurassic World.

And that got me thinking about Reality and Believability in films, especially in light of this week’s Pixar Rule #15 – Know your Characters (part 1) post.

It was the above Tweet that struck a chord with me and reminded me of the night I left the cinema after watching the original Transformers film and my friend who commented that, “…it wasn’t very realistic…” to which I think I responded along the lines of, “… it’s about giant ******* robots from outer space!”

This illustrates how people can miss the point of going to the movies. For me, it isn’t necessarily about realism (I’ve got real-life for that), it is about escapism – and you don’t need realism (or fantasy necessarily) to escape, you need believability. If the world that the film creates for you is believable within the rules of its own construction, then it becomes realistic within that context. So giant robots from mars aren’t realistic but, if the story is well written and crafted in a way that makes it believable within the universe it exists in, then we may start to see it as realistic in it’s own right… just for that brief moment in time when we allow ourselves to escape to, and embrace the world on screen.

This is where World Building is important. You can write the most fantastical stories in the the most outlandish of settings but also pull off a great, compelling story, if you take your time to carefully plan the world, the rules that govern it and the characters who populate it (see Pixar Rule #15). Looper, for example, does a good job of this, despite throwing all sorts of “magic” at the audience from the off. Very early on in the story you get Time Travel AND Telekinesis, a combination that could easily turn your audience off because it just isn’t realistic. However, by carefully setting out the rules of this world through the introduction of interesting characters and a compelling story the writer, Rian Johnson, spins an impossible yarn that sucks us in and just makes us believe.

One of my favourite films of all time The Fountain has little in it that could be considered “realistic”. In fact, it pretty much takes the audience as far from reality as it can. However, by involving universal themes around love and loss that everyone can identify with, and developing interesting characters and a compelling story, I believe every action in every world that is built for me on screen.

To me, that is what is important when writing and creating stories. Make it believable. No matter what crazy lunacy you throw into the mix, take time to build your world, its rules and characters and make the reader, and audience believe – then you can do what you like and they’ll join you for the ride, rather than question whether “that” would happen in “reality”.

Going back to Pixar, they really are masters at this. Just think for a moment…

  • Talking cars
  • Living dolls
  • Talking animals
  • Friendly monsters
  • Robots in love
  • A house floating on balloons

I could go on but, as crazy as some of these ideas are, they all work. Why? Because Pixar create credible characters in believable situations that reflect our own lives, emotions and dreams. They build worlds that we believe in because they reflect real-life, whether or not they are grounded in reality.

Think carefully about your creations and you can do the same.

Embrace the believable – it is much nicer than punching yourself in the face!

Do you feel Reality and Believabilty are important?

Feel free to comment below, and thanks for reading.

And do check out Lucy’s words of wisdom over at Bang2Write!


Posted on June 19, 2015, in Character, Films, theme, Writing, Writing Rules and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. …I think we all have at least one ‘Transformer film’ friend (maybe acquaintance would be a better term)..the sort of person who doesn’t understand context…or doesn’t want to! If you are going to get the most out of a film, or a book for that matter you have to ‘buy in’..e.g. when you see ‘Paddington’ (and please do) don’t get hung up about the main character being a taking bear (sorry if I’ve spoilt that for anyone)…just believe for 90 mins that a bear can’ll make the film sooo much more fun than it already is!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree, although it is not about me being able to be smarter than someone by showing I understand the film better than them, just that you have to able to let go a little. People moaning about Sandra Bullock’s character being allowed to go into space in a weakened psychological state. It may not be realistic, but it makes the pain she goes through trying to overcome her obstacles a hell of a lot more interesting!

    And, yes Paddington is a great example, helped, in no small part, by the unquestioning acceptance of the other characters that finding a bear at a train station is, somehow, normal. They don’t find it unusual, so neither do we. We become more involved as we can relate to the concerns we all share about “stranger danger”, belonging or being part of a family.

    I’m beginning to see a Paddington obsession forming in you Geoff! How many times now? Although, I must confess, we nearly watched it again this weekend….

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well spotted Mark..perhaps I need to diversify in my film tastes a bit..hmm ‘Minions’ anyone??


  4. Nothing wrong with a dose of Paddington… or Minions for that matter. I’ll only worry about you when you start talking about Marmalade with any degree of sincerity!


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