If a fiction writer is just trying to make their story realistic, would asking about it be off-topic? Some example questions:

  • If a character unexpectedly slaps their spouse for the first time, would this reaction be realistic?
  • Is it realistic that my character keeps on fighting after being shot in the shoulder?
  • Is it realistic that a recently freed slave would be self-confident and take initiative?
  • Is it unrealistic to have my hero and villain put aside their differences in pursuit of a common goal?
  • Is it unrealistic that this character successfully smuggles guns onto a plane?

I realize some of these kinds of questions would go on other sites. If you want to ask "Is it realistic that this spaceship flies so close to a black hole?" then you should probably go to Physics.SE. But what about these kinds of questions that don't fit neatly into other topics?

5 Answers 5


It's possible you could present this as a more general writing critique, which is explicitly on-topic per the faq.


Since writing critiques are on-topic, I'd say that as long as the question is presented as a portion of the writing with the question "Is this reaction realistic?" and not just "If I had my MC slap his wife and her beat the shit out of him with a frying pan, is that realistic?" then I'd say that this line of questioning is on-topic.

  • 1
    I think this is the way to go.
    – justkt
    Commented May 15, 2011 at 1:58

"Is this realistic" can be understood in two ways:

  • Can this actually happen?
  • Would readers believe this?

In the former case, I think the question would be off-topic.

In the latter, it is on-topic, although it is a possible duplication of suspension of disbelief.


I tend to agree with Jacob Spire. If "can this actually happen?" is the intended question, then it is probably limited by a lack of context -because as we know truth is often stranger than fiction. It would be hard for anyone but the author to answer questions like that out of context from the rest of a specific story.

"Would readers believe this?" is a more accessible question and I would say more thought provoking, however, the answers to this kind of question might not get to what the author is looking for. There are innumerable reasons why a set of circumstances might not be believable to someone. My reasons for disbelief might be completely irrelevant to your story or your train of thought.

As I stated I tend to agree with the previous commenter, but the reason I chose to add my two cents is that I believe there is a great deal to be gained by asking the more specific question:

how could I make this concept plausible, or how could I make a reader believe this?

This gets to the art of fiction. Sometimes I am limited in my knowledge of a specific topic, or the amount of time I have to research. For those situations, I feel like a site like this can be a perfect forum for writing tips that might overlap a bit with physics, or technology, or psychology, etc...

I am not surprised when a seemingly smart character does the smart thing or when a seemingly dumb character does the dumb thing. I am not even surprised when a writer, who might be hurried or lazy, makes them do the opposite with no preface or explanation. What makes for great fiction, however, is when characters really surprise you, to such an extent that you need to stop and ask how that happened. As you look back at the pieces it all makes sense and you just have a little smirk at how clever it was. I know great authors generally prefer to be invisible, but I've experienced this many times despite that fact.

In the end, you are the writer and it is your world. You make the decisions about what is realistic -you and maybe your editor. We can't honestly tell you objectively whether something is realistic in a vacuum, but I do think that talking about technique around specific circumstances is specifically what Writers.SE is all about. Of course, I'm still pretty new to the site, so I could be totally wrong...

Thanks for the interesting question.


Good question... I'd lean toward "on-topic" except that I'm concerned that with our low volume thus far those questions could easily dominate the site, giving newcomers the impression that we are just here to critique one another's ideas and not to talk about the writing life, the business of writing, technique, etc.

So, if I had to answer this minute, I'd say "off-topic", though I hate to do so. If we had more content on the site (say post-beta, if we ever make it there) these questions should be fine, though.

  • 1
    Personally I don't think we want to define what is and isn't on-topic by the volume of questions on the site currently.
    – justkt
    Commented May 16, 2011 at 15:36

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