How Realistic Do Books Have to Be?

Posted June 30, 2016 by Emily in Investigated / 3 Comments


Look, I don’t know about you, but one of the main reasons why I love reading so much, especially fantasy and dystopian novels, is because reading allows me to escape the harsh reality of the real world. The world full of stress, work, homework, etc. Reading provides a nice break from all of that fun stuff. I don’t read nonfiction for fun (and to escape), so I don’t usually mind when authors take some liberty and fudging around some facts so that they’ll fit the story better. But how much liberty can an author take before the book becomes too much to deal with?

It’s pretty obvious fiction books are full of fiction. That being said, I do think they still require a certain amount of realism. Even fantasy and sci-fi books need to be somewhat realistic. You’re probably going “WHAT? Emz, you’ve lost your freaking mind!” If I could roll my eyes online, I would. Yes, I know they are fiction. Yes, I know they take place in make-believe worlds. Yes, I know that there really should be anything but a reflection of our world. But the truth is, I still think they need to keep some of the concepts found on our Earth, in this time in history, to be enjoyable.

One of the best ways to alienate readers is to write a story no one can relate to. Even if the characters are not human, do not live our world as we know it, and/or don’t live in our time period, they still have to have humanlike qualities. Human emotions, expressions, behavior, motives. Something that we readers and read and identify with, or at least understand. Something that allows the content of the book to be somewhat familiar, even if the subject is foreign.

But beyond characters, books, especially retellings and adaptations, can only take a few liberties before I can no longer force myself to keep reading it. I get that sometimes authors retell myths in a way so the story they have concocted makes more sense. For example, in the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, Athena has demigod children despite being a maiden goddess. Riordan does explain how Athena was able to stir spawn without technically breaking her oath, but it does stray from the myths. Annabeth and Athena’s other “children” play an important role in the series and Uncle Rick’s version does make sense (in a way).

But sometimes that isn’t the case. For example, if Riordan just said Athena slept with the men she liked and got preggo and had children (you know, not a brain child, but one that involves reproductive organs), then that would have been a stretch. And I, a lover (and nerd) of Greek mythology would have said “no no” and drop the book in a pool of water so deep, that even Percy, with his powers, wouldn’t be able to save.

So in conclusion, I think it’s fine when authors take some realistic liberties in their novels. They are writing works of fiction so it’s totally fine if some facts are skewed. Still, the books they write do have to maintain a certain level of realism, no matter what genre they belong to or else the book loses some of its charm.

What do you think?
How realistic do books have to be?



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3 responses to “How Realistic Do Books Have to Be?

  1. I definitely think some realism is much needed, if not, it just won’t work for me, either. And I have noticed that sometimes, it’s the little things that bug me the most. Things that should be easy to verify (because, yes, I do that!) should be close to factual at the very least.
    And I’m completely with you when it comes to mythology! If it’s needed to stray from some of the important things we know about the Greek Gods and Goddesses, it has to be explained, so that they are still close to the personality they had.

  2. I completely agree that there needs to be an element of realism in any novel. I really love Fantasy too, but even Harry Potter and Celaena Sardothian have “rules”. J K Rowling even talked about it before, how to make her world as immersing as it is, there had to be boundaries, there had to be things that magic couldn’t do. Yes, fantasy worlds are unrealistic by definition, but they should be guided by their own sets of rules and boundaries, or else it loses all sense of function. Character emotions and actions should also be guided by those rules, unless the character is a sociopath or similar, or else all sorts of reviewers start commenting that the “character’s actions were unrealistic”. Character realism, as opposed to world realism, is a little trickier though, because it’s much more subjective, and it’s up to the reader to differentiate between what THEY would do in a situation, and what it’s believable to assume another person might do. I think this is the main reason why I struggle with magical realism. Fantasy is an entirely made up world yes, but with its own customs, rules, currency, etc. Magical realism blends the fantastical with the realistic with no rhyme or reason, and my poor brain just struggles to cope!