One reason I adore reading is because I can have hundreds of amazing experiences that I could NEVER have anywhere else. Because I’m not allowed a pet kraken, unfortunately. I also am not coordinated enough to ride a horse and wield a sword simultaneously. I don’t have a magical twin. And no one wants to take a field trip with me to Panem (my family is so boring, honestly).
Obviously some of the adventures I enjoy reading about are not at all realistic. (Example: krakens would make better friends than pets, obviously.)
Which leads me ask the question…
how realistic do books need to be?
This is also a double-sided question. Because on ONE HAND — I totally accept reading a book with a pet kraken in it. But on the OTHER HAND — I do not accept that every villain has terrible shooting aim so the hero always escapes entirely unscathed. See what I mean? Realism is a HARD thing to gauge.
When reviewing a book, I often squint at the details (or lack thereof) and say “BUT THAT’S NOT REALISTIC.”
Because in real life, the guy doesn’t always get the girl. And the epic-magical-wizard-battle doesn’t always go to plan. And dangit, sometimes the hero will have a bloodsugar drop and need a snack, okay?!?! Enough about worrying which person in the love-triangle to pick — what about being SO TIRED you just need to take a nap???
Books often skip over little details that make life real. Is this a good thing? Does it make the story go faster and be more concise? Or does it just turn any and every book (even contemporaries) into a sort of ideal “fantasy world” that is mildly unrelatable to us?
SURPRISING THINGS BOOKS ARE OFTEN UNREALISTIC ABOUT
It’s basically a book’s favourite thing of ever to mess about with time. Mostly this makes SENSE. Because you don’t want to read 90-pages when you could read 5-pages, right? RIGHT. Books often speed things up. That 4-day adventure has just ended up in two characters a) knowing each other better than any other bean of ever apparently b) having completed things with the energy of 8 decades, and c) probably falling in love, raising 2 children, getting a house, and a pair of fish. AND IT’S NOT EVEN BEEN A WEEK, OMG, CHILL.
Do we want a concise adventure or a realistically paced adventure?
A G E S:
I’m talking about YA specifically here because I looooove YA. It is ALL I WISH TO EAT FOREVER. HUZZAH! But I actually found myself saying repeatedly in my reviews “This dude is veeeery mature for only being 17.” When I was 17 I quoted movies in an Irish accent and laughed for 32 hours over it. I WAS SUPER MATURE, YES?
I get that a traumatic event (which books adore) can make you grow up faster. Also being born in a place/decade/setting that requires you to be more mature. SO THERE CAN BE LOGICAL REASONS! I admit! But often I find teenagers are not acting like teenagers. Is this because the authors are out of touch? Or because we’d pretend we were all never (at least a little bit) stupid at 17?
Oh stop rolling your eyes. YOU KNEW I WOULD TALK ABOUT FOOD. What can I say? I’m an advocate of Foodie Fiction. (Yes yes, that is a thing, and if it’s not I’m going to make it one.) But often in fantasy adventures, characters will go DAYS while only eating like half a piece of jerky. Sure, adrenaline does wonders. But if you don’t eat…no energy. Logic, right?! And if I had a dollar for everyone who “forgot to eat”…I COULD OPEN THE RESTAURANT THAT CHARACTERS CLEARLY NEED TO ATTEND.
E N D I N G S:
That moment when your life wraps up in a cute tidy bow and everything is set for the next 92 years? HAHAH YEAH. I DON’T KNOW IT EITHER. Now this is a very bookish thing to do: end everything neatly. And if books don’t, we do kind of get annoyed. Who wants to be left hanging?! NOT REALLY I. I want answers and I want a conclusion and I want to know that when I close the book everything isn’t immediately going to wither and die.
But it’s not even realistic. Just not even a little bit.
D I A L O G U E:
Again, this happens in books because we don’t want to read 37-pages of people going “So um, yeah right, ah, that is — oh what was I saying?” Eyeballs would explode in tears of frustration. They would. Don’t even deny it. It’s actually good writing to make dialogue readable over realistic. But I OFTEN read books where I know people wouldn’t talk like that in real life. That teenage boy with the well-thought-out soliloquy? Um, hmmmm. No? (Although, whenever I come across a teen using huge words, I get secretly happy because I always used gargantuan words in my youth. Not even on purpose. I WAS RAISED BY BOOKS.)
Sometimes writing is really beautiful, concise, and logical; whereas real-life dialogue is often NOT.
A lot of times books are “unrealistic” in order to make good reading.
I get that. I’m a writer! So I doubly understand why we do this.
But when is it “good, concise writing” and when is it “unrealistic dreamy dragon scale and fairy dust writing”? And
I can’t help but SNORT at some unrealistic bookish tendencies: like those adonis teenage boys who never work out but have perfect bodies (???) or the teens who never seem to go to school/do homework (??) or how the hero always survives that mortal wound (???) or it turns out your neighbour’s brother’s cousins best friend was in your kindergarten class and YOU HAVE A CONNECTION AND SHALL BE IN LOVE BY DAWN (???!?)
Personally? I want to see realism particularly in responses.
Like being punched in the face and yet having no bruises. THAT AIN’T REALISTIC, FOLKS. But I can be okay with un-realistic-teenager soliloquies — because AWWW. And I can totally get onboard with the pet kraken — because #GOALS. And am in definite favour of a concise dialogue — because NOPE TO BORING “UM”S IN DIALOGUE.
When I read, I want something magical. Not always general magic. But just the magic of being swept along in a story that I would NOT find in real life. (Raise your hand if you hate reality TV. Ahem.) I want my “unrealistic” dragons and time travel and golden-hearted pirates and midnight pudding escapades. SOMETIMES REALITY IS OVERRATED ANYWAY.