Because experiencing realistic fiction - is the desire of every reader.
And writers write - to serve the desires of readers.
The combination of fiction and reality might seem, at first glance, like a contradiction in terms, a dichotomy, even an oxymoron. However, the concept of fiction that is real or life-like, forms the very core of the reader's experience.
People read fiction for the emotional and intellectual experience. And what readers read, and why they read it, influences what we write and how we write it.
Here we will discuss:
1. What is realistic fiction?
How can "fiction" be "real"? What does this term mean?
The word "fiction" in regards to literature - generally means a narration which is not-true, real or factual. And "Realistic" means real, real-like or having the nature of "reality".
Therefore, "realistic fiction" means fiction that is realistic or lifelike.
Fiction that is lifelike is fiction that seems real and believable, as though it "could happen".
And that is exactly what readers are paying us for. They are paying us for an experience - a lifelike emotional and intellectual experience.
But no one gets to experience our stories if we don't publish.
2. Is realistic fiction desirable? And if so Why?
Creating realistic fiction should be the primary objective of every fiction writer. Because experiencing realistic fiction is the primary desire of every reader.
And writers write, to serve the needs and desires of readers.
But why fiction that only seams real, why not the real thing? Obviously it would be more "real" if the reader actually experienced the events rather than just read about them. True, but real experience is time-consuming, expensive and often dangerous. Few of us have the time, money or stamina to actually climb Mount Everest or go lion hunting with Hemingway. But we can experience this and more from the comfort of our arm chair through the magic of real-to-life fiction.
In many regards, fiction is able to approach "truth" more closely than "non-fiction". If it's done right, fiction can be more real, more compelling, more frightening and emotionally charged than the tepid "reality" that comprises the bulk of our reader's lives.
The reasons for this are several.
Non-fiction by definition restricts itself to the facts. And facts can be dry, dusty things, devoid of emotion.
Unless one is writing an autobiography, a great number of "facts" must be left out of any "non-fiction" book. The most important "facts" left out of non-fiction are "thoughts" and "emotions". And these are very important components of the fiction reader's experience.
In non-fiction the thoughts and emotions of the characters are missing. We don't know what Lincoln or Churchill "thought" or "felt" about the events they were involved in.
However, in a novel we can (through the imagination of the author) hear not only what the protagonist thinks, but what any number of lesser characters think and feel about the events of the story.
This "insight" delivers an additional layer of emotionally rich meaning to the reader.
But accomplishing this magic places an additional burden on the author.
The thoughts and feelings, as well as the actions of the characters, must be "realistic" - meaning, "lifelike" or true to life.
This requires a little technique...
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3. How to create realistic fiction?
For the reader to experience this "fiction", the story must seem "real" or "realistic" to the reader.
There are two sides to this "reality".
The writer agrees to provide believable fiction and the reader agrees to believe in that fiction.
In this way we have a sort of contract, an agreement, between the writer and the reader.
This unwritten "contract" is a vital component in the writer/reader relationship and is the cornerstone upon which the whole fiction writing/reading magic act relies.
And although this is a two-way contract the impetus to perform is upon the writer; the reader only agrees to provide the willing suspension of disbelief as long as the write provides fiction that is realistic.
At the moment the fiction becomes un-realistic the reader withdraws his/her suspension of disbelief.
The bulk of the reality of the fiction is conveyed in the emotions and thoughts of the characters.
How does the writer determine what the characters would "think" or "feel" about what happens to them?
This is accomplished via a writer's technique.
The technique involves the writer assuming the viewpoint, the identity, of each character he/she is writing about.
What that means is "mentally" becoming the character. It's like being an actor on a stage or in a movie. But unlike an actor who only needs to read the lines and take "direction" from the director; the writer must become the director, actor and playwright, all at the same time.
Sounds complicated. But it's really not.
Presuming, of course, that the writer understands and can competently execute the principles of storytelling in the first place.
If, on the other hand, the writer does not understand the basics of:
a.) what a story is,
b.) how a story works, and
c.) why it works the way it does,
Then no amount of discussion or instruction in the finer points of realistic fiction will make any sense.
Fiction that is realistic compels the reader to experience the story "as though" the characters and events were real and happening to him/her.
And simply put, the reader can only experience what the writer experienced when he/she wrote the scene.
So, to the degree that the writer was being and experiencing what the character felt when they wrote the scene then the reader will be able to experience being the character when they read that scene.
Writing realistic fiction simply requires that the writer experience realistically his fiction as he/she creates it.
If we cry, when we write it, chances are that our readers will cry, when they read it. That's realistic fiction.
Richard A. McCullough
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