Setting: C.S. Lewis on Reality–“We Couldn’t Make it Up”

In the book Mere Christianity, Lewis reflects on the nature of reality:

Besides being complicated, reality, in my experience, is usually odd. It is not neat, not obvious, not what you expect. For instance, when you have grasped that the earth and the other planets go round the sun, you would naturally expect that all the planets were made to match–all at equal distances from each other…or distances that regularly increased…. In face, you find no rhyme or reason (that we can see) about either the sizes or the distances; and some of them have one moon, one has four,…and one has a ring.

Reality, in fact, is usually something you could not have guessed. This is one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up.

I Should Feel We Were Making It Up

This principle applies not just to Christian apologetics, but to fiction writing as well. (Isn’t it interesting to note that Lewis was also a fiction writer, a literature professor, and medieval literature specialist.)

If the setting in our stories is too simple, too predictable, readers will feel like we’re just making it all up (which, of course, we are) rather than experience being swept up in the fictional dream.

Feel Real

For our fiction’s settings to feel real, they need to be complex, to contain variations–twists, surprises, imperfections, and to make even contemporary settings highly individual, particular, even a bit peculiar in their specificity

Your Turn

In the comment space below, please share the title and author of a work you read recently in which the author made the setting feel real. What was it that made it seem like it “could not be made up.” Or, are you a writer? Feel free to share an excerpt from your work illustrating a “reality” rendered in a way that seems it “could not be made up.”

I look forward to hearing from you!