Reality in Fiction

So last night hubby and I got around to watching the season finale of Glee.  Apart from some awesome moments (Kurt and Rachel on the stage of Wicked), it was overall rather lame and disappointing.  That’s not actually what I want to talk about, just an observation.

Now I love Glee.  I am a former show choir member (my husband sent up many prayers of thanks when I FINALLY forgot all my choreography and stopped bursting into random spates of dance in public whenever any of my old numbers came on), so I am very familiar with how show choir really works.

It does NOT mean learning full shows and completely different numbers from week to week.  And it definitely doesn’t mean being sent home to learn songs for sing offs or to learn something.  You have a defined set list (at least we did) almost like rehearsing for a musical play (just without the acting).  And yeah, you’re learning new music, but the whole thing is building toward something and it takes, at the very least, weeks, if not months of rehearsals to learn the music and all the choreography (assuming the plan is a full length show–which is what we did–and not just competition where you are limited to 1-3 songs, as I recall).  You don’t change your numbers from State level competitions to Nationals unless there was something horribly wrong with State (in which case you’re probably not GOING to Nationals).

Obviously I can overlook this because the reality wouldn’t make a very entertaining story from week to week and I really LOVE all the musical numbers and characters bursting into random song and dance.  I mean, I harbor a deep and secret desire for real life to mimic that classic episode of Buffy, Once More With Feeling.  But as I was watching this episode where they’ve gone to New York for Nationals, I’m shaking my head at how Will is being totally irresponsible as a teacher, with the kids running around like crazy, unchaperoned people (seriously?  This day in age, a teacher could get fired for that), not rehearsing, and the fact that they aren’t writing the music until literally days before the competition.  Sorry, that completely surpasses my threshold of believability.  You can’t make up the song and all the choreography and have a whole group learn it 2 days before a national competition and then come in 12th.  Sorry.

And that kind of brings me to my point.  How much reality do we need to put in fiction? 

Some things we can generally get away with.  Like in suspense and thriller fiction, most readers will overlook the fact that forensics NEVER get done in real life as fast as they do in books or on TV.  There are a smaller set of us that aren’t willing to overlook that if the science is wrong.  I’m totally that chick that watches these CSI shows and goes “that’s not how that works.”  My hubs is like that for tech stuff.  We watched the latest episode of Primeval the other night and he was scoffing “there’s no such thing as a ground penetrating radar satellite.”

Sometimes you have a lot more latitude.  I obviously write in the paranormal.  There’s mostly not the same kind of reality restrictions on that where there’s a right and wrong way to do things (although I had one reader insist that there was and gave me a lecture on how I got the magic drakyn forge that I made up in Devil’s Eye all wrong).  Obviously there you have to go for a different kind of reality.  Your characters need to be/feel real to the reader.  And, if relevant, it helps to sprinkle in real world details to help draw your readers into the fantastic.

Anyway, these are just some of my random thoughts.  How much reality do you require in your fiction?  What’s your turn it off/throw the book trigger?

10 thoughts on “Reality in Fiction

  1. Unless the world is supposed to be different (as in fantasy and paranormal), I expect it to at least resemble reality.

    What ticks me off is when someone represents something that’s obviously supposed to be based on “real life” and completely screws it up. Like crochet? Uses a hook, not needles. Or screwing up some basic biology detail that isn’t hard to look up, like the ovulation – conception – implantation timeline. (If somebody’s supposed to be a werewolf or something, yeah, okay, your biology’s different. But when it’s just someone with a bit of magic, if their biology’s different, say so.)

  2. I can’t believe that a reader told you that you were wrong about something you made up. That’s just weird. I got in trouble because I didn’t explain how my vampire could eat real food.

    As you know, I’m pretty forgiving when I read or watch movies and TV. I like to be entertained. What they do on CSI doesn’t bother me because it’s fiction. But I don’t know enough about forensics to tell whether it’s right or wrong. Except when my husband is saying “that’s not realistic”. If it was something I was really passionate about, it might bother me for something to be unrealistic, but I think it would have to be WAY off for it to cause me to get upset. Maybe there’s no such thing as a ground penetrating radar satellite…but what if there COULD be?

  3. As long as the rules of the world are established and the story adheres to that, I’m okay with whatever happens. As in Glee, once I know people are going to burst into song at any moment, I put that in the hyper-reality category. I can’t think of a specific example, but there’s got to be other episodes where he was being irresponsible by real world standards.

    I guess it also depends what the story’s focus is. When I read a Kait book, I want the paranormal/action/romance. Hit those points and I won’t mind if you bend the rules on other stuff.

  4. I like to use realism as an offset for the fantastic in my writing. Nothing makes the truly weird stand out like a little bit of stark realism served up in contrast. That said, it’s easy to let yourself get bogged down in the mechanics of things to the point of coming to a complete stop.

    This is why i do not write historical fiction or hard science fiction. I do not care to spend too much time doing research.

  5. I don’t know the answer, but I struggle with this in my fiction–which is mysteries with a paranormal twist. In the end, I decided I wanted “Hollywood” special effects for the supernatural part of the plot. I am sure I will, like you, have someone explain to me why I was wrong, but I did it my way. 😀

    In books and on TV, the thing that really annoys me is regional stuff. If you’re going to write about some place, find out enough to make it believable.

    I read a series of mysteries set in Houston, Texas by Leann Sweeney. She did such a good job of making it “feel” like you were really in Houston. She talked about real restaurants, real neighborhoods, the whole thing. I admired all the effort she put into doing that.

    1. Sadly I can think of way more attempts at that that went horribly wrong. I have yet to read a portrayal of Mississippi by a non Mississippi native that was even close to approximating reality.

  6. Well… when it comes to historical fiction, I’m a real stickler for as much accuracy as possible. And fantasy… as long as the world is consistent and believable, I’ll take anything!

  7. This reminds me of the time I went to watch G.I. Joe and ‘Captain’ Duke Hauser had the WRONG medal/insignia for his rank. Oh yeah, and apparently ice sinks.

    Ok, so maybe I’m a little touchy about Military stuff. I mean, I’ll happily watch the Fast and Furious movies without grinding my teeth over the laws of physics being broken frequently and on a epic scale. I guess it just depends on what you, as the creator, have promised me.

    If your premise is about the Military, you should at least get those aspects right. If your premise is about fantastic car races…so long as you don’t call a ‘Camaro’, a ‘Ferrari’? I’m pretty happy to check my brain in at the door, so to speak.

    Where Fantasy and the Paranormal are concerned….I’m perfectly willing to suspend my disbelief for quite a bit so long as the “story rules” remain consistent, characters are believable (if not likeable, I don’t actually have to “like” them as people so long as they are interesting) and I’m entertained. Also, if your writing about a setting that actually exists…I don’t care if you “make up” a restaurant or something but don’t tell me there’s a Denny’s on a specific street when, actually, it’s about a block away.

    I think it boils down to personal taste and what you as a reader/viewer may or may not have extensive knowledge of.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.