Fact In Fiction: Keeping Your Story Realistic

Fact in Fiction

One of the amazing things about creative writing is that you get to create your own worlds and characters. Every tiny little detail is left up to you to decide. There’s essentially no limit to what you can do with the material that you come up with.

But….

Yes, there’s a but.

Your writing still needs to be realistic. “But, Kiara,” you say skeptically, “I write fiction. It’s not supposed to be realistic.”

No. No, no, no no no no no. That’s not how it works. Not even in the slightest bit. Yes, fiction is all about delving deep into places that none of us have set a single foot on (and never will), but no matter how fantastical these worlds and situations get, they have got to be grounded in some sort of reality, or it’ll become something that no one wants to read. If a book breaks too many “reality rules”, it’ll come off as over the top and annoying.

This can be a difficult subject to approach, as our minds expand inward infinitely. Something I see as a solid law of reality that needs to be in your story could conflict with an amazing idea of yours that specifically needs that law cut out, and I can’t even imagine the ideas you have, so I can’t adjust what I say to fit them. I’m going to try, anyway.

One thing I see as necessary in most books, whether they be situated in a fantasy land or not, are the basic laws of science. The water cycle. The way gravity intervenes in everyday life. Objects that are in motion tend to stay in motion, all that good stuff. Chances are that those kinds of things are pretty much the same in your carefully crafted world. If they’re suddenly absent and anything is possible, your reader is going to furrow their brow and stare at your book condescendingly. (Like I said, there are exceptions to everything I am saying, so don’t get riled up). It doesn’t make sense that a very human character should be able to make a 100-foot jump without gravity and other scientific forces acting against them. That seems like a scam to your reader, because no one could do that in real life. Although your character could be something other than human with special powers and abilities, keep in mind that there are still limits to what they can. There are some things that no character, no matter how special or powerful, should be able to do because they’re so outlandish.

Another aspect that’s important to keep realistic is the matter of wounds, sicknesses, and other general physical plights that plague your fictional accomplices. Unless your character has some sort of healing power (or the like), you should know what is physically possible and what isn’t for them. Does this real-life plant actually have the ability to make them sick? How long would it take to recover from this sickness/wound? How much blood can they lose before their status turns critical? It’s ridiculous if your character loses more blood than is humanly possible, has two broken legs, a concussion, and a hundred cuts and bruises and is still standing, let alone fighting/walking/questing and generally being perfectly okay. There are loopholes to this (as always), but most of the time, stick with what’s possible.

Fiction is supposed to be an escape to something where fantastic things can happen, but if there’s no element of realism, no one will be able to relate, and your story will fall flat. You don’t want readers to handle your every written word with skepticism, do you?

Despite common belief, fact and fiction can mix – and when they do, it’s a recipe for a good book.

Your turn! What are some annoying unrealistic trends you’ve found in stories? What realistic themes do you think books always need to include? Are there any other topics pertaining to fiction realism that you want me to address? Do tell!  

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