Hello world, it is I, Orville E Wright. Here’s another article, I hope you like it.
“Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Forest Gump, Forest Gump.
There is a writing technique called gritty realism. This is when an author takes an established character, such as Batman, and turns him into an anti-hero. The author makes his hero into a murderer, muddies the morality of heroism and goodness, and generally just make things depressing. He does say this adds ‘realism’ to the story.
This is not the case.
In real life, there is both good and bad. There are horrible natural disasters and abundant harvests. There are criminals, and there are cops. There is death, and there is new life. Life is not all one thing. As authors, we should strive to bring this diverse feeling of cohesive variety into our stories. ‘Realism’ so-called does not do this.
‘Realism’ only shows the dark side of the universe. The world is only evil, and nothing is redeemable. All your icons are evil and decrepit underneath. Nothing matters.
This approach does not actually reflect life. Sometimes, George Washington is a good man, despite having kept slaves. Sometimes, William Wilberforce stops the slave trade with just a vote. Sometimes, Abraham Lincoln fights tooth and nail to free all the slaves in America and keep the Union together.
Reality is complicated, and it is the job of an author to reflect this. So, how does one do this? Simple, he has cause and effect function in a way that makes sense to the audience. For example, let’s talk about Superman.
One of the complaints made against Superman is that he is unrealistically good, that a normal person with his power would abuse it. To this I say, their definition of realistic is wrong. Their argument is that: since he has so much power, he must abuse it. The thing they don’t get is that by not abusing his power and being a good guy, he is making the D.C. universe more realistic. Just look at General Zod to see what I mean.
General Zod is a Kryptonian military man with all the power of Superman, maybe more, since he’s older. There is very little difference in power between the two of them. The difference between Zod and Clark Kent is in how they were raised. Clark is a good Kansas farm boy who moved to Metropolis to help people, while Zod is a war hungry monster who was locked away by his own people. But they are still both Kryptonians on earth.
For every Batman who uses his money to fight crime, there is a Lex Luthor and Penguin who use their money to commit crime. For every Spider-man who uses his powers responsibly, there is an Eddie Brock (Venom) and Doc. Ock who use their powers selfishly. For every Superman, there is a Bizarro and Zod. In the world of superheroes, there are people who use their powers for evil. They’re the bad guys and they out number the heroes. This is realistic.
Some will then argue that the heroes still would abuse their power. To that, I point to Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus. Cincinnatus was a farmer during a war in Roman history. He was given the position of dictator and successfully used it to save his allies and defend his city from its enemies. The position of dictator during Roman times was merely a stop gap measure that gave all the power of Rome to one man for six years or until the crisis had ended. Most abused this power once elected. Caesar even used the position to get crowned emperor. The thing that makes Cincinnatus so special was that he didn’t abuse the power given to him, instead he just gave it up and went back to his farm. For every Cincinnatus, there is a Ceasar and a Hitler.
There are many kings and presidents who use their power for good without abusing it, like Abraham Lincoln or George Washington, who was offered a crown but turned it down in favor of becoming president and then retired to his farm. It is not impossible that there could exist a man that could use his power for good without letting it control him. If there is such a man, then we as authors should write stories about him, for he is a hero. If Superman is this man, is it any wonder he can use his power without abusing it.
Just because he does good does not make him more or less realistic than any other hero in the D.C. universe. What does make Superman more realistic is his job as a reporter. When Superman was first created back in 1938, there were no police scanners. If you wanted to have a convenient reason to be at the scene of a crime, you had to be one of two people: either a cop in the act of stopping the criminal—which wouldn’t work for Superman if he wanted to change into his costume—or a reporter. A reporter’s job at the time was to go to the scene of the crime, report on what was going on, and turn in his report to his boss as an article. He doesn’t have to punch a clock.. No one will question why he’s at a crime scene or why he would suddenly leave when things get dangerous. No one will wonder why he’s asking how the death ray works or how the criminals are stealing the diamonds from the banks. No one will ask where he is when Superman is saving the day, since no one expects him to stick around for a shoot out. It gives him the most operating freedom, while giving him a convenient excuse to be close to the action. It is an ingenious move by the author that lets Superman have a secret identity while putting him on the crime scene.
This kind of touch is what makes your story realistic, having the character make logical choices in accordance with his fantastic circumstances. His job is logical.
Another example of this is the Science Patrol from Ultraman. In the Ultraman universe, there are giant monsters, generally called Kaiju, which are practically walking natural disasters. Now, pretend you are the head of the U.N.. and you have to deal with these giant monsters on a regular basis. What do you do? You create a group of men and women with the best tech you can muster and have them fight the giant monsters. And if a benevolent space giant apparels and gives one of your soldiers the power to grow giant and fight these evil monster when your team can’t handle it, so much the better.
In a later season, someone on the staff realizes something interesting: the monsters are not innately evil. They are wild animals, so maybe we should have one of our heroes try not to kill them. Out of this idea came Ultraman Cosmos, the warrior of compassion. This is also something that comes naturally from the premise because a complicated interaction with the Kaiju makes the world seem more realistic, even with the fantastic premise.
All of these ideas take a premise and bring it to its logical extreme. ‘Realism’ so called, does not. ‘Realism’ only shows one small part of the human experience, while real realism shows as much of the human experience as is needed for the story, which is what all good stories show.
Shakespeare once wrote in one of his plays, “For anything so overdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is to hold, as ’twere, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.” This means that it is the job of an artist to show the audience something true about human nature and the rest of the world that they might not know. Something that was always there but not seen before. This is why something as small as Superman being a reporter or Ultraman protecting the Science Patrol is such a good idea. It’s a small touch, but if you have enough of them they add up.
If you want proof that this works, look no further then One Piece. One Piece is a very popular shonen anime which had been going for twenty years and has over 1000 episodes. The author of One Piece, Eiichiro Oda, is one of the best writers I have ever seen. If you want to look at a story with some of the best technical writing ever, look no further then One Piece.
One of the things that Oda does well is world building. He will have the heroes run across a giant whale at the beginning of the “Grand Line” and then have this come back up again more than two hundred and fifty episodes later. He does this all the time. This is the essence of realism in literature, to have an interconnected world where A is followed by B and then by C in a logical manner.
‘Realism’ so called, is not innately bad. Like anything in writing, it is one of the many tools we authors have in out tool belt. For example, both Animal Farm and the Maltese Falcon use this type of setting to its fullest by making the dark subject seem dark. In this form, ‘Realism’ is called either grittiness or a noir. Either of these names are more apt than ‘Realism.’ This is merely a mood. True realism is an effect. That is the difference.
The problem comes when people start thinking that grittiness is more realistic then heroism. This world view leads to people to live their whole lives in despair and only seek pleasure, since that is the only good they are sure exists. It is bad for their spiritual health, and it is bad for their writing, since it makes things unnecessarily depressing.
The point is, God made a wonderful world, far greater then we give Him credit for. As authors, it is our duty to show that world in all its glory, not just the bad and not just the good, but all of it.
Orville E. Wright, the son of L. Jagi Lamplighter and John C. Wright, is a small Pokémon plush toy brought to life by mad science.