Discussion: Reality In Fiction

One day, I was blog hopping and read another blogger's review of a book I had also read. This reader had given the book a slightly lower rating [than I did] because she felt that the opening scene was not realistic enough for the book's setting, which got me thinking about reality in fiction.

The book in question here is One Good Earl Deserves a Lover, a historical romance by Sarah MacLean.  In this story, our heroine is engaged to be married but is concerned about her inexperience in intimate matters, so she propositions our would-be hero whom she has to convince to "educate" her.

Honestly, this blogger wasn't wrong.  It's clear to see how this particular scene would have been highly improbable for the time period that it's set in.  However, this scene is an important one because it's the catalyst for the entire book's plot so does this now mean that the book isn't as good as it could've been had the opening made more sense?  

I was willing to be more forgiving for the sake of fiction, particularly where unlikely romances are involved.  I feel that sometimes authors have to take some creative license in terms of how "realistic" to make certain scenes if it means making it work for the story.

Ok, so authors take A LOT of creative license - but then that's okay if you're writing science fiction, or dystopian, or high fantasy, right?  What about with the little things though, like how two characters meet?  Are you less willing to overlook it because it's too small a detail to cross the line from the logical to the fantastic?

My opinion is that no one knows a story better than its author and so they know what their characters have to do to get to the next plot point.  However, does this necessarily mean that it's okay for characters to do things that don't make sense?  Yes and no.  Even fiction has to have limitations.  I am willing to accept a changes like the one in this book because it's relevant to the story.  Now had our Victorian heroine showed up in a BMW to meet the hero...then I'd be like, uh NO!  Besides, this is a romance and I want the irrational, illogical, sweep me off my feet kind of story!

Tell me, dear readers, how much reality do you like in your fiction?  What kind of details are you willing or unwilling to overlook?


  1. What a great topic!

    For me, I think it depends more on the state of mind, or place in life I am when reading the novel. For example, when grieving over my departed dog, The Art of Racing in the Rain was NOT the right book to read.(Although I did re-read it later and loved it!). Sometimes, I want a book that is so far from being realistic. I want to imagine and fantasize, etc. Other times, I want to be able to relate to the character/storyline.

    I am pretty forgiving with books that aren't that realistic when claiming to be.

    When it comes to reading, I am pretty easy!

  2. Fabulous topic! Like you, I'm willing to give a little bit of leeway to a story, especially when the actual story is good but the premise is a little unrealistic.

    In your example, the author was postulating "What if this happened? How would that go?" (or at least, I assume, not having read it). To me, it's reasonable to set aside your expectations of reality, especially in a romance, because really, who reads romance for the realism? It's escapist literature, and it's fun and you are able to defer reality for a few hours.

    If, however, it's that the author was using it to explain away a weak back story or weak setting, then I'm more critical. A story has to make sense, and if I'm sitting there going "Why would you do that?!" over and over, I'm less inclined to give the author and story a pass.

  3. If it's a well crafted story, I'm willing to figure historic inaccuracies. However, my big beef is when a world is set up and then breaks it's own rules (especially the subtle psycho-social ones...like spending time trying to convince me that the world of the book is one in which women are supressed, and then have the main female character sassing off to everyone and nobody bats an eye).

  4. I like things to be fairly realistic... I am not into sci-fi, so if the story has dragons and fairies and other make-believe creatures, it most likely won't be my favorite book. Of course, historical fiction is my very favorite genre. I recently read a really fun one titled, "A Thousand Years of Johnny Von" by Edith M. Cortese http://www.trumpetboypress.com/ This book was right up my ally. The main plot takes place in present time, yet weaves with historical love stories of the past. I love books like this- fun and heartfelt, and believable!

  5. Interesting topic! I like my fiction to be realistic in the sense that it makes sense...if the author can convince me that something would fit in that world, then I will believe it. If it seems completely ridiculous and seems to be too far-fetched, I will hold it against the story and plot. I'm not sure that really makes sense, but I like my books to be entertaining but still be somewhat believable within their setting/genre.

  6. Hmm, I've never thought about this before. If it's something completely out of left field, if it pulls me out of the story because it's so absurd, then I don't like it. Otherwise, I'm willing to go with the flow for the story's sake. I'm not sure where that line is drawn, though.

  7. This is a great topic. There was someone that I talked with briefly on Twitter about the book The Program. If you haven't read it, it's about an epidemic in teen suicides, a YA book. I fell in love with this book HARD. This chic says she didn't want to read it b/c it wasn't realistic. I thought well of course not, ITS A BOOK. She goes on to tell me that her friend said blah blah blah about teen suicide...I told her well clearly she knows more about depression and teen suicides then me. Sheesh. Too much analyzing.

    Bottom line is if the author can sell it and make it believable then it's okay to me. If it's like alpha cockroach shifters, LOL, THEN maybe I'd think it was TOO MUCH.


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