Have You Thought About This? : Reality

You may have had that moment. You hand a piece over to a friend or a reviewer and they come back to you saying, “I don’t believe that character would ever do that” or “Real people don’t talk like that”. And for a moment you knit your eyebrows and think, “Okay, but I’m writing fiction. It’s obviously not real.” But when people come to you with these complaints over and over, you start to think the relationship between reality and writing might not be that simple.

Have you thought about this? Why do you read? At first I answered that I read because it was fun, because I liked hearing about adventures. Then came moments in my life when I sincerely wished I could lead two lives at once, when each option moving forward was attractive. I realized that maybe my interest in fiction, humanity’s interest in any kind of storytelling, was related to that more than related to “passing the time”.

Every time we read, we are momentarily taking up our lives on a separate path. We immerse ourselves in another character’s life and get to play out one possible option of our existence. For example, in choosing whether to stay with a significant other and give up a career choice or to follow that career choice and give up the relationship, if I read a book whose plot revolves around the choice I didn’t make, I get a peek into what that kind of life might have been like, and can finish the book feeling satisfied, regretful, or any combination of the two.

Doesn’t that kind of start to explain why so many married women still crave romance novels? Fulfilling another life path without infidelity.

I think a lot of this can explain why fantasy and science fiction are such popular genres, too. We get to take a completely wild ride in a life that would never be a possibility for us to actually experience. Of course, we’re still looking for some aspect of reality. We need things that connect to us in the reality that we’re living. We need believable relationships, character motives, and plot lines that don’t jump completely all over the place. The new fantasy world still needs to abide by the rules that built it.

What do you think? When do you call out a piece as unbelievable? What are some calling cards you’ve noticed of a good, realistic piece, no matter the gender? Do you make an effort to make your writing realistic?

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2 Responses

  1. Stella says:

    I think that there’s maybe two layers to reality in books: there’s the story level, and there’s the character level.

    The story level, we can suspend our disbelief quite easily. You know, we can believe that there are dinosaurs on a spaceship.

    But the character level, we need to believe that people are real, I think. If someone is too quick off the mark in conversation it grates me- I hate a character who makes a quip every single line. We hate perfect characters and we hate characters who act “out of character.” Because, I think, we need the characters to be as real as ever.

    • Hannah says:

      I think the reason that some people LIKE quippy or smart characters is that they might think of themselves in that way, and we’re not looking for characters that are “real” as much as those that we can see ourselves in, in whatever way we think about ourselves.

      What I like best is when we react really strongly to a book because we find a character we really hate. Not just a villain or a really annoying character, but someone we really despise and can’t stop talking about afterward. I like those times ’cause way way later, when I stop being emotional about it, I can probably note that it was a character reflecting something about myself I didn’t like or wasn’t ready to accept.

      If you had to pick who you thought was the most “real” character you’ve ever read, who’d you pick?

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