Re: Realism in Fiction

#1
I have been considering writing a fiction recently which doesn't deal with the magic and wonder of the world around it and it got me thinking:
What is realism's place in fiction? 

As far as I am aware, light novels are for the most part consumed for pleasure. Whether that is through escapism, thrills, comedy or complicated math in blue boxes, pleasure tends to be the end goal to some extent (with the exception of horror genres but you are all potentially masochists at heart so idk).  I feel as though in this environment which thrives of pleasure through vicarious living, realism struggles to find its place. 

Outside of self-insert fictions aiming to make the reader feel like an OP dragon-slaying, harem-having, genius protagonist or anti-hero; (arguably a false facsimile of realism which is just real enough that the reader can relate themselves to a character) realism tends to be found in the dark and gritty action fictions. The high tension created from using realism as a tool to raise the stakes in every combat. Realism is also claimed lie within your magical fantasies where they use science to supplement their magic to levels greater than all those before them. But that tends to be the end of it. Realism is a tool to be used sparingly. A tool commonly used to increase emotional reactions to a scene, to create a sense of hopelessness in horror in a contrast of the real to the surreal or to make the reader believe that they too could do all this cool stuff if given the chance.


  1. Can realism exist as a primary aspect of a fiction, beyond being just a storytelling tool but as the core of a setting?

  2. Would it even be entertaining to read something like that?

  3. At what point does a novel's realism become something that is a detractor?

Re: Realism in Fiction

#2
Basically, realism is there for readers to connect to what's happening.

The events might be as fantastic as you want, but the reader must be able to follow the character goals, know what would be gained or lost and why he should care.  Usually having set rules that the story must follow helps with t.
And I think realism gets boring when gets it in the way of interesting developments and the story stagnates. Not many want to see an action hero recover for weeks after every  injury. Or the villain refusing to go through with his ingenious plan because the guards did their job in the interconnected network of security. Or martial artist needing to practice every technique ten thousand times to master it, stretching his journey to many years.

Re: Realism in Fiction

#3
> Outside of [...] realism tends to be found in the dark and gritty action fictions.

I personally think the dark and gritty action fictions are the most unrealistic of them all. I can suspend my disbelief enough to cope with physical wounds healing in a day or week. But dealing with emotional loss and hurt and being able to continue somehow, even repeatedly? Without needing some years of healing in between or being so psychological crippled that they are unable to deal with any challenges that they all die in chapter 2? And even hand waving the sheer improbability away, would I want to see the results of that? Looking at pictures of gross physical wounds is less disturbing than being exposed to a realistic description of only PTSD not to speak of what more realistic results of such stories would be.

And that is not even speaking about the realism of the setting..




Re: Realism in Fiction

#4
I’d say realism has a more subtle role in adding to the effect of other narrative developments, rather than being an end in itself for fictional stories. Realism adds weight to a story, makes the characters and conflicts feel more tangible and significant. Real things are more important to us than false things, even if said realism is an illusory impression portrayed by fiction. Realism makes wounds ore scarring, death more emotional, victory more astounding.

But ultimately realism in fiction isn’t actual used with the goal of creating realistic scenarios, but to give the impression of them being real. Realism for it’s own sake has no purpose in fiction. Sure, you could make any part of realistic action interesting if you put in the work and know what you’re doing, but most attempts at pure realism don’t actually do anything with the character being incapacitated for a realistic amount of time and nothing interesting happening. Though you could add drama in  happening WHILE they can’t do anything about it as an interesting source of suspense, but most don’t by default remember to the toilet scene actually interesting. (I assure you it is technically possible)

So realism goes to far when writers forget the point of adding it in. Ultimately they are idiots anyway because it won’t be 100% realistic no matter what they do, so really they’re just doing stuff without thinking about it. You can just assume the necessities of reality are dealt with behind the scenes unless you’re trying to make a point about those specific realities. It might be interesting that mountain climbers have to patch seven doohickies on their trip but it doesn’t mean I’ll care if it doesn’t make a point on the protagonist being incompetent or competent somehow or foreshadow doohicky #263 breaking and causing the plot.

Realism can make a story feel larger, like there’s all these complications constantly affecting each other which makes the end result more and more intricate and shows us our own naiveties. It can put more weight in characters as you show how each are highly complex and hard to predict, or even show us how hard it is to make our dreams live up to reality, and how we need to deal with that in a personal level. How things are always more complicated than we can fully imagine within our own minds.

But if it’s not doing anything like those kinds of things I hardly know why anyone would bother.

Re: Realism in Fiction

#5
It gets bad when you read sci-fi and they ignore some basic knowledge, like the speed of light. Other times you can sort of forgive people for pulling CSI-tier stupid, because it's fun, and they obviously don't know how computers even work. But it's quite jarring at times.

Otherwise, I've seen mentions to things like the stages of grief, and it really changed how I see characters. Having some spineless, cowardly loser who can't even look girls in the eye turn into a murder-hobo who collects waifus like pokemon is pretty jarring. Especially when the whole isekai plot-line means nothing beyond being an excuse for self-insert wish fulfillment, since the protagonist never seems to care at all about Earth and adapt within a few moments.

I mean, come on.

It also goes the other way when some old person, military veteran or scientist type gets isekai'd and turn into a naive, weak-willed idiot.

You ever remember what it was like being a kid and not caring? I sort of miss that state of mind now, I never used to care and could just enjoy fun for the sake of fun. Now I feel like one of those weirdo judges on some stupid reality TV show that is way too touchy about how many grains of rice are allowed on a plate.

Re: Realism in Fiction

#7
veted Wrote: It gets bad when you read sci-fi and they ignore some basic knowledge, like the speed of light. Other times you can sort of forgive people for pulling CSI-tier stupid, because it's fun, and they obviously don't know how computers even work. But it's quite jarring at times.


Much has been written about suspension of disbelief. It is worth remembering that fantastic is just an old world for fictional. Reality itself is extremely boring and usually hardly worth reading about. Only few instances of it are worth making documentaries about and even those have to be tweaked it at least a little to make them worth reading (and if it is only compressing things).

That said, there are some things that can produce an irritating feeling of unrealness. Though those are always a at least a bit subjective and what is a problem for one reader and in one setting can be some interesting spice for another reader or in another setting.


1) 'Wrong' physics
People are used to our world and how it works. Anything that has different physics is by definition impossible in reality and thus lacks in one aspect of reality. But then this lack is a prerequisite for many kinds of story. After all, you cannot have magic spells, telepathy, faster than light travel, fate, super powers or many other things without breaking physics.

There are two ways to cope with that: Either present it as a different reality or by bending our reality.

Presenting it as a different reality works in my experience as reader best by simply not speaking about it but making it clear that things are different.

Bending our reality is dangerous as it openly conflicts with what many readers know and you might make it too irritating to read especially for those having a bit of science education. Things like bending space for FTL travel, mental breakthrough to harness magic, waving around the word quantum mechanic for telepathy, collonising Mars to survive something happening on Earth, walking through walls by just stopping believing they are solid and things like that brings you not only into "definitely not real" world but also in the "wrong things some people might belief about our world" territory. That can make it terribly hard to suspend my disbelief for some people, especially for me, though it might work for others.

There are also some mixed forms, that are a bit of both or can be interpreted as being both. Like having a multiverse with our universe as one part of it and some way of interaction between those (and be it reincarnation). That can work both as "clearly not our physics, fine" and "I don't realize that is not our physics" for different readers. Same with switches of physics, like "advent of the system", where the world you imagine has our physics until some point and something that is too absurd to be reality afterwards: For those getting easily triggered that is so clearly over the top that it is just a fictional world they can embrace while others might not even realize how unrealistic that is.

2) Consistency
Being a physical or magical world, I as reader expect some consistency. This is another hard thing to get right. Make too little rules apparent  and you generate no feeling of consistency. State too many rules of the world and the inconsistencies will be clearly visible (any fictional world will have many of those). If your fictional world has truth potions or spells or mind reading to determine truth, then some readers will be disrupted quite a bit if those do not have quite the effect on society. (Especially law enforcement and politics).

3) Plot
Probable things are extremely boring. For a story to be worth reading it has to be some improbability: At least too many events worth reading about happening to the same person. And especially many events that are worth to be told together, showing the characters in easy ways, a limited set of actions that if told explain the whole thing. In short there must be a story with a plot. But while the plot is essential it is by definition also some lack of reality. It gets irritating once the easiest answer to "why did that just happen?" is "Because it was needed by the plot".
For a good story that is always the most likely answer (at least if you see introducing the characters and the world as part of the plot). But the purpose of the author is to make the reader forget that.

Re: Realism in Fiction

#8
Better question: What is your story about?  

If you are writing a hard hitting science fiction novel that tries to confront some dystopian possible future then you damn well better be realistic because the whole point of your story is that this could really happen.  You don't get to hand-wave things away in a story like that, it undermines your entire premise.

If you are writing a story that explores ordinary human characters then you should also aim for realism, your story is about real people after all.

If you are writing a fun dive into the realm of the impossible, exploring places where magic and fantasy abound then your story doesn't really need as much realism.  Keep in mind, realism means confronting all the baggage that comes along with it which might make your setting literally impossible (dragons realistically don't make efficient apex predators unless most animals are dinosaur sized).  It might also limit your characters, realistically very few people would have long careers as adventurers in no small part due to increased risk for things like PTSD.

So yes, realism can absolutely be the point of your story, and can make for an extremely compelling read.  This is the central idea of The Handmaid's Tale, for example.  It can also enhance your characters, giving them arcs that resonate with readers because they've experienced the same or similar thing.  In particular, this is really powerful in fantasy because it takes something the reader inherently cannot relate to (none of us have ever fought a dragon or lived in Gilead) and brings it into our shared understanding (we've all experienced symptoms of fear or faced moments when we felt oppressed).

When is realism too much?  Well likely when it no longer serves the story.  If you want to give us a story about a farmhand becoming a great king and hero of good, then showing us realistic emotions he might feel along the way is a strong way to establish a connection.  But we likely don't need a detailed explanation of his tax policy and governing style because the story isn't about politics, it's about the hero's journey.  On the other hand, if your goal is to write political intrigue in a fantasy world then you might want a more realistic perspective on kingdom management.  

Re: Realism in Fiction

#9
I like realism when it doesn't mean "dark and edgy and grim and gray" but instead means "what would really happen." Stuff like... the evil all-powerful dystopia falls apart because one low-level bureaucrat accidentally leaks some files that exposes a big scandal and then a higher official bungles the cover-up. Or stuff like, oh man, the hot male protagonist accidentally gets stuck with the hot female as a roommate due to a big mixup! ...Yeah, they're probably going to have sex at least a couple times but then it's going to get really, really awkward between them. The elves that live for a thousand years have probably completely decimated the rest of the world several times out of sheer boredom and are infinitely better than any other race at every single task.

Sometimes "realism" means "turning something exciting into something mundane," too. And that's the kind of stuff I like sometimes. The Sam Raimi Spider-Man 2 movie does a great job at showing the everyday life of a superhero, with some of the exciting parts turned more realistic by showing what happens when Peter Parker temporarily loses his powers. That's the sort of "realism" that genre fiction sometimes needs more of.

Re: Realism in Fiction

#10
I believe it to be very enthralling when a novel has a good and healthy portion of realism. It takes a lot of experience of research to convey that realism to another who hasn’t researched or experienced those things that one would be writing about. For instance the gulf between a fantasy sword fight and a real sword fight is quite large. Realism doesn’t need to take place in the present to be real. I will refer to a quote whose origin I don’t remember “what I sent drama but life with the dull parts cut out?”. I would say the same applies to realism. One doesn’t need to be boring to be real. Neither is combat the only reality. Anyways I've lost track of my point so I’ll stop here.

Re: Realism in Fiction

#11
We all could use more novels were fights are more realistic. for example, the forward motion of an attack if you punch someone or swing your sword you are committed to that path you take and cant just jump backward or to the side to evade a projectile etc. without breaking your posture completely and land on your face. Most fights are described as if they move omnidirectional without gravity or something like that and jump around like a rubberball. Doesn't really matter if its a fantasy novel or not if you tell your muscles to move into one direction then regardless if you are a stats enhanced uber human or not that wouldnt work.

Re: Realism in Fiction

#12
I very much agree. It’s one thing to use the environment to one’s advantage in a fight. Been there and it’s ugly watching someone try to do something from a movie or video game. The human body has rules and limits. They may flex but they don’t break unless you do. It can be pretty spectacular too. Ever heard of a compound dislocation at the shoulder? Seen that and more. That’s what happens when someone thinks both Newton and kinesiology lied.

Re: Realism in Fiction

#13
Its hard for me to relate to this depiction of realism.  I see it as fiction based in the world we know, or not requiring the fantastic. This approach gets used tons, even in genre fiction. As in Comma, or The Andromeda strain, or in historical fictions, like Horatio Hornblower, or urban fiction, or even a lot of adventure fiction. Not everything is a spawn of D&D, or even S&S.  Currently on this site, there is a lot of work that focuses on Gaming, especially RPG, which is in fact fantasy or SF focused, but that can change, wafted by changing interest, or the vision of participating authors.  For my money, too many sites focus on a single genre, like Romance, or western drama, or RPG. Diversity is the spice of life, and I can enjoy topical work in genres that I don't necessarily write personally.  While a go-to place for one or the other works, so does  having a good index that shelves work reasonably well. I see problem sites that allow authors too much latitude in that regard, so that work types end too shuffled for an index of genre to be useful, but see this as a software and conditioning of input problem.  Anyway I digress.

I feel that a dollop at least, of the real world and real interactions can benefit any work, helping to ground the reader in its text, and aid in the suspension of belief needed by it. I don't think this speaks to the use of memes and common plot devices like FTL, Which are most often just "plot grease" that commonly carry a story from here to there.  Albiet, for SF, its expected these days that more work on theoretically possible underpinnings be employed, these still function as story tokens to allow the forwarding of space adventures, and we like space adventures. We like time travel. We like our immortals. Novels are by definition fictitious accounts, not biography or travel logs, or current events. Tastes vary, and for a fact, thats very good news for us..

Re: Realism in Fiction

#14
One of the main reasons why a drop books these days is because authors stop spending time on the world the story takes place in.
Especially light novels show a distinct lack of effort to build a world that is even remotely plausible.

As much as the "it is fantasy, not everything needs to make sense" is true, the author has to make a decent effort to keep the suspension of disbelief alive to a certain degree.

The major problems with fantasy worlds and lack of realism:

1) The society in these worlds makes no sense and would collapse in a short time.
2) The economy is unsustainable. The whole "adventurer society" idea is prosperous and whenever they are part of a story you can be 100% sure the author just stole the idea without taking the time to think "does this make sense in my world?"
3) The world is developed along with the story and the world is made to fit the story. This is inherently wrong, a story needs to fit into a world, it needs to make SENSE in that world. When authors start changing the world and it's rules, it is a sure sign of an author being lazy and a bad story teller.
4) If the world contains an organized society the world MUST be realistic to a certain degree. It must make SENSE that things work that way. Light novels are the perfect example for how to NOT do that.

Re: Realism in Fiction

#15

Scarlust Wrote: What is realism's place in fiction? 

As far as I am aware, light novels are for the most part consumed for pleasure. Whether that is through escapism, thrills, comedy or complicated math in blue boxes, pleasure tends to be the end goal to some extent (with the exception of horror genres but you are all potentially masochists at heart so idk).  I feel as though in this environment which thrives of pleasure through vicarious living, realism struggles to find its place. 

Outside of self-insert fictions aiming to make the reader feel like an OP dragon-slaying, harem-having, genius protagonist or anti-hero; (arguably a false facsimile of realism which is just real enough that the reader can relate themselves to a character) realism tends to be found in the dark and gritty action fictions. The high tension created from using realism as a tool to raise the stakes in every combat. Realism is also claimed lie within your magical fantasies where they use science to supplement their magic to levels greater than all those before them. But that tends to be the end of it. Realism is a tool to be used sparingly. A tool commonly used to increase emotional reactions to a scene, to create a sense of hopelessness in horror in a contrast of the real to the surreal or to make the reader believe that they too could do all this cool stuff if given the chance.
  • Can realism exist as a primary aspect of a fiction, beyond being just a storytelling tool but as the core of a setting?
  • Would it even be entertaining to read something like that?
  • At what point does a novel's realism become something that is a detractor?

Realistic settings are generally far more popular than fantastical ones. For instance: Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Perry Mason... there's a wealth of content that is 'mysterious' among the 'real'. Even outside of mystery: romance is usually told in a non-fantastical setting, and it's only fairly recently that romances have turned towards the magical... take Fifty First Dates, for instance: a heartwarming/breaking romance set in the real world with a heavy basis in the psychological... but without the 'darkness' and 'grit' you're referring to.

Heavens... there's around the world in 80 days, which is a real world setting adventure, and there's great expectations, which is a real world setting of darkness and misery set in a different time and with a tone towards progression and an excellent twist. Classics literally abound with the stuff... Robinson Crusoe's world is 'real' even as it's littered with ferocious man-eating cannibals!

There's few better ways to tell a story than to set it in reality... and if you're going to bother to make it fantastical, then as long as you establish things and don't break the basis you've created: they'll feel as if they're in a 'different' reality, rather than in some strange place that changes on a whim without rhyme or reason.

It is absolutely entertaining to read something 'realistic'. The only point at which 'realism' in fiction becomes a detraction is when you stop telling a story of fiction, and begin instead to write of 'nonfiction'.

Re: Realism in Fiction

#16
One way to make something fantastical stick out, is to put it up against a background of the plausible and mundane. in short, the real and expected.  While a three ring circus is a fair entertainment, the spookyest, and deepest dramas usually play against the backdrop of the real. Also, it makes the writer's job a bit less frantic, because the "real" needs a lot less justification and explanation. Just saying. It's not a new idea,and a lot of fiction is writ with this basis. It also stands a better chance of being considered literary fiction, if you care about such things in your fantasy career.

Re: Realism in Fiction

#17
What makes for a good fiction is realism. Even with sci-fi and fantasy elements, realism could be applied by being consistent with the laws you create in your story. It's sad that there are some writers who use the phrase, "It's just fantasy so you could do anything with it." When the fact is, there could always be something ridiculous and, ironic to say, unrealistic if you don't stick to the world you built.

This is why magic systems are created in fantasy. And in sci-fi, additional elements or invented laws of physics. So that there is a backbone in which realism could stand with.

Fiction is the biggest "What if". Sure you make stuff up but for it to be enjoyable, it should have parameters where anything outside that limit would be considered unrealistic. It helps for the story to be understandable. 

Re: Realism in Fiction

#18
I'm going to say that realism as a quality really isn't something that's 'morally' necessary for writing. Instead I'm going to approach this from a market point of view.

Obviously preferences are different for different people. But I think it just boils down to the human need for contrast, since that's the unique qualifier that seems to be the main attractant for people's taste in art and leisure.

Think about music. I'm going to use some anecdotal ways of going about this, but kids that grow up not allowed to enjoy certain things will tend to snap towards those things, at least briefly. People with hard lives tend to enjoy happier music since it provides a contrast. People with relatively secure lives can tend towards harsher forms of music. Of course that's not entirely universal, but I think the same sort of thought stands for people who, say, had more difficult lives and wanted a sense of control, and so listened to music that gave them feelings of control.  People work to fulfill needs.

So I would say that realism as something 'necessary' or 'unnecessary' shouldn't necessarily be the question, at least if somebody's going for a purely popular standpoint. Self fulfillment isekais, no matter how bad, are extremely popular. Tripe like Twilight and Fifty Shades were incredibly popular because they fulfilled needs that people weren't able to articulate in polite society.

I'd say realism is just something that some people need, but if people get enough of it, whether through excessive realistic writing or simply having enough of life, then it's no longer desired.

Having a 'moral' objection to realism in fiction is more of a moral objection to a person's way of life, I would say. And while I definitely have enough moral objections to other people, there's no real way to solve this unless you depart from thinking about fiction and focus instead on trying to change people. I'll let you decide whether that's worth pursuing.

Re: Realism in Fiction

#19
Depends on the story I am writting earth's eulogy why has a couple of guys who are sent back to 70 ad to try to have earths technology advanced enough to stop a meteor apocolypse that destroys the world.

I have to have conversations about how much land it takes to grow crops, bows and arrows, martial arts. Depending on where you are at in the world in AD 70 some of the first things they introduce would have been unreal at the time, but normal to us in the modern world.

1632 ring of fire, and cast under an alien sun are simular to my story although they take place in the 17th century not the first.

I have seen some interesting hard science fictions stories, but then again I think if you introduce aliens its no longer hard science fiction.

Personally I think its not realistic that aliens all come from unified planets wheras earth has a couple of hundred nations, and thousands of cultures in those nations.

On a personal level I do not think james bond is realistic because he is good at EVERYTHING. I find it annoying. Characters must have failures to be realistic. A wonderful example is in Ruroni Kenshin series where he is this amazing swordsman, the best ever, but in the first episode he gets hit in the head by several objects. It humanizes the character.

Re: Realism in Fiction

#20
BTW, I don't think that the main reason many people read fiction is escapism. I seldom read fiction that way. Instead, good fiction often gets me thinking about very serious, real-world issues. 

Take George RR Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire as an example The series is good because it makes you think about real-world things.  For instance, "What makes Ned Stark a leader so worth emulating that he still resonates and impacts the action 7,000 pages AFTER his death?"

Or consider Daenerys's story from that series. I like that she freed slaves, but she can be autocratic, cruel, and vindictive. Is it possible that such a leader may be good in battle, a great conqueror but untrustworthy and unsteady at the helm? Is statecraft nothing more than warcraft, or is it a different skillset? 

Throughout the series, Martin is very keen on the balance between civil and military, might and right, etc. These issues are as important outside George RR Martin's fictional world as they are to his characters. As is the existence of epic heroes, like Ned Stark, who serve as role-models to follow. I consider these sorts of things the realistic aspects of Martin's fiction. Granted, it's not realism proper, ala Hemingway, but it does engage your thinking about real-life events and politics. 

I can think of hundreds of other books that walk this line, with the fiction highlighting the real.