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Discussion: Realistic Books

Recently I’ve been thinking about how when I’m reviewing a book, or reading someone else’s review, I see discussions of how realistic a book is. So I wanted to discuss a) What make a book realistic, b) whether this is a good thing, and c) how there are different types of ‘realisticness’. Hopefully this will leave me (and you) with a better idea of what we’re saying when talking about the realisticness of a book.

realistic-books

What realistic means

I’ve come up with a definition, which I totally made up I can guarantee is 100% reliable and the best definition ever.

  • Displays relationships realistically. This can mean whatever you want it to mean, but I’m thinking about how most friendships don’t form in a day, and often involve disagreements.
  • Realistic characters. I think this should mean characters that aren’t perfectly good or bad, but somewhere in between. Characters should have issues other than two many suitors. Characters that get hungry and frustrated and angry, just like nonfictional human beans.
  • Realistic plot. i.e, not entirely action. I’ll further discuss what realistic plot means in the next section.
  • Realistic conflict does not involve trying to choose a boyfriend or fighting over pointless things like what is for dinner. (or maybe people do fight about this?)
  • Realistic setting… I’m not really sure what I mean with this. But the plot and characters interact with the place they’re set, right? So if these things don’t deal with place, e.g physical distance, transport, what it looks like out the window, and (if it’s set in the real world) technological advances, behaviour and language and clothing of the time, then it’s not very realistic. (e.g something set in India during the British Raj where it’s not hot and everybody says ‘yo’ ‘sup?’ and ‘gangsta’)

 

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Because reusing instagram photos is a thing and I’m lazy

Disadvantages of realistic books

  • ‘real life’ (or is this just my life?) has a lot of character development and like, no plot. There’s a lot of action that goes nowhere and needless conflict and dead ends and no finish line with all the loose ends tied up in sight.
  • A book would take forever if everything that happens in real life (awkward crushes, going to the bathroom, meals because hunger is a thing, having to sleep and do homework) was written about.
  • Sometimes, it’s nice to escape the boring real world, and in that case you don’t want a book that’s realistic

 

Advantages of realistic books

  • It’s more relatable. Like, if we have to deal with getting hungry and so do the characters, then it’s we can empathise with the characters better.
  • It’s easier to imagine! For example, it’s easier to understand how a character slowly makes friends than imagining the character falling in love in a day. Because we’ve probably done the former but not the latter.
  • Sometimes you can learn about yourself by reading about characters. But if they’re running around killing monsters rather than spending half an hour crying because they’re failing at making a friendship bracelet not that I would ever do that then that can’t really happen.

 

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Feat. my flute body because SHINY

Types of realism

I was originally thinking about this post in terms or contemporary books, as in ‘How similar is this book to real life?’ But I realised that there can be different types of realisticness, as you can see in my definition. A fantasy can have realistic characters and conflict, but the setting is never going to be like where I live, because there are no monsters where I live. (Or are there? Who can know). A historical novel can be meticulously researched, but maybe the characters just don’t act like any human of ever because they’re too perfect.

In summary, when we’re evaluating how realistic a book is, I think we should consider the multiple facets or realism. What worked? What didn’t? Could I imagine this happening in my town? Did I like it being realistic? Was there a plot? Hopefully thinking about what we mean by ‘realistic’ will help us review more accurately.

Did you get to the end of this gargantuan post? Do you like realistic books? Why? What is your definition of realistic? What’s a realistic or non-realistic book you’ve read recently?

 

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23 thoughts on “Discussion: Realistic Books

  1. I think for me whether a book is ‘realistic’ has to do with whether it hits an emotionally authentic place. Like in Six of Crows, obviously the situation was ridiculous, but there was something so compelling to me about watching Kaz and Inej, two people with so much trauma, fall in love. There was something more engaging to me about that than say the couple in The Hating Game (which I also loved, but in a very different way to the Crows, haha).

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  2. I mean, I would personally say realism is essential to every book, but maybe not in the way that you might think with the word “realistic.” Because when you’re reading most books, the key thing is not that everything is 100% factual, but rather that you can suspend your disbelief. If you want to present me with dragons, magic, high-tech computers, artificial intelligence, aliens, werewolves, ghosts, vampires, WHATEVER, cool. I like those things. Those are essentially just other things you show me alongside your dialogue, plotline, charaterization, figurative language, and so on. If you have magic with inconsistent rules or aliens who have no apparent culture or language, that is going to be just as unbelievable as a character who can walk on broken legs or someone who speaks in only simple sentences. Realism, to me, isn’t really just about being “believable,” but being consistent enough that I can suspend my disbelief and enjoy the story without being distracted by inaccuracies. So… yeah, that’s a way to say it. It’s not about being right, it’s about not getting it wrong. Which sounds the same, but is not. Go figure. Excellent post, by the way! It really made me think. 🙂

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    1. Why thank you, nice person!
      I didn’t really think about consistency or about poorly explained magic, but you’re so right. I like to think I’m an analytical person, and I like explanations, obviously. Because vampires are fine but if there’s not a reason for their existence (like a scientific or magical one) then it’s a little hard to suspend your disbelief. I have this problem with a lot of YA contemporary books where the characters are like ‘nobody likes me’ and then fall in love?
      Also, while it’s certainly not a requisite, I ADORE it when magic is explained. Like in Harry Potter they’re kind of just like ‘yay magic’ without explaining where it works or the energy to do spells or the ability to wield a wand comes from. But in Eragon, for example, all energy to do magic must come from somewhere, and magicians can use words to tap into various natural energy reserves. It makes way more sense to me.

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  3. I think an interesting way of seeing realisticness(? realisticity? realisticism? realism? Idek) in fiction is asking WHAT elements people want to be realistic and WHY. For me, it’s the scenario or the emotion because I want to relate to the characters and see how they react to things; even if the setting isn’t really reasonable or doesn’t really exist in real life (e.g. sci-fi or fantasy), I’d say it’s still realistic if the feelings are real and relatable. So I guess when it comes to realisticity (yep, I’m going with that. rolls off well on the tongue.) it also depends a lot on the person reading the book because what’s real for everyone may not be the same. (and now this is getting too philosophical. guh, do I even make sense?)

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    1. OH HI HI I HAVEN’T SEEN YOU FOR A WHILE!!!
      I totally agree though. If the point of a book isn’t to be realistic about say, setting, then judging it is dumb. And yes, again your point about reality being different for different people is true. Like, we all se the world slightly differently and have different experiences so what we see as real (and what we see as real in books) is different. Like maybe one person would think the way a character reacted to X situation was very realistic and another person would think that nobody in real life does that.
      ALSO COME BACK TO THE BLOGOSPHERE WE MISS YOU ❤

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      1. SORRY FOR THE LATE REPLY. AND AWWW THANK YOU.
        Really though, your reply literally made my day. Like I thought people must have already forgotten my blog because my last update was way too long ago :p . I don’t know when I can properly run my blog because university is way too hectic, and I currently cannot manage to do so much stuff at the same time. But hey, you never know. I do have stuff I want to talk about, and perhaps one day I’ll just decide to ditch schoolwork for a while and start babbling all over my blog. 😄

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  4. Wow! what a coincidence, yesterday I wrote a post on my top five FAVORITE Realistic Fiction books. If I’d have to pick one it’d probably be Wonder by: RJ Palicio, or Counting by 7’s by: Holly Goldberg Sloan, I love what Realistic Fiction brings to the table and are really hoping that we’ll be seeing more in 2017.

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    1. I saw your post (I couldn’t comment on it for some reason) and WOW WE”RE LIKE POSTING TWINS. I really liked Counting By Sevens (I don’t remember it very well because I read it a few years ago but I do remember I liked it). And Wonder is such a good and realistic and thoughtful book; you clearly have good taste!

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  5. I’m of the belief that fiction can just be fiction (wrote a whole post on it last year :P). Not everything needs to be realistic. Reading can be an escape and used to explore avenues you can’t get in a novel that is grounded in realism. Especially in contemporary romances. Yes, it’s nice to see romantic relationships that are healthy and ones you want to see in real life but why not read some over the top ones on occasion for entertainment?

    As long as readers can understand the difference (that fiction isn’t the basis for real life), I’m all for it 🙂 Though true realistic novels are great too!

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    1. I should check out your post (sorry it took me so long to reply! Side note: did you ever review the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series? Because I want to read the last book but I can’t remember the plot of the first two. Anyway.)
      I do enjoy the occasional entertaining if unrealistic relationship. Because they’re so fun, while not at all matching my (limited) personal experience, hahaha. Also, getting confused between fiction and real life is a big problem.

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      1. Agreed. I think it’s easy for people to think that because books mirror real life, the stuff that happens within them should be a part of everyday life sometimes.

        I haven’t read the rest of the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series and have opted not to. BUT, Recaptains has great full recaps of all the first two books under the author’s last name 😉

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  6. I love realistic books! It’s a talented author who can really write about real life and make it seem real. In my opinion, realism is needed in every genre, not just contemporary. Even fantasy / science fiction / dystopian books need some aspects of realism or else readers wouldn’t be able to relate to them or enjoy them. Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous review! ❤

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  7. Realistic books would be more.. well realistic. But then again it would take so long for the point to come across! Books have to complete it all in a number of chapters, while in real life there’s no chapters. It may take months or years, and that may be to hard to write for a book. But still, it’s nice that some books you can relate to and are relating to the real life things that are going on. Having a book you can’t relate to wouldn’t be as interesting as a book you could relate to. Although sometimes it is fun to indulge in the fake fantasys, haha!

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    1. Some parts of real life never have tidy plot resolutions! (Exhibit A: Me).
      I didn’t think about this before, but as a reader it takes a certain skill to be able to relate to things that you’re not familiar with, whether it’s the setting, the situation, or the character themselves. And fantasies that aren’t realistic are also great at times! 🙂

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      1. Exactly, some books are so well knit together at some points, but I just think that it should be messy in places, but nothing about life is tidy.
        Fantasies are good for not being realistic, you’re able to throw away the fact of real life and just have fun with it.

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  8. For me, the most important “realistic” aspect of a book are the emotions and reactions to certain situations. It’s really obvious to the reader when a character makes a choice that completely doesn’t make sense or when someone reacts to a scenario in a way that would never happen in real life. It makes the characters– and the entire story, by extension– seem really artificial.
    Great post! 🙂

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    1. I guess we’re together here–no matter the setting or whatever, humans still act like humans. And if they’re acting too perfect or too flawed (is there such a thing) or just not relatablely, that really ruins the book for me 🙂

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  9. I like realistic books because they’re, well… realistic xD Then again a lot of contemporary YA can be boring because of the constant drinking and partying that EVERYONE does (or else you’re not a teenager, you impostor).

    Realistic book I’ve read recently is …And a Happy New Year? by Holly Bourne and a non realistic book I’ve read is Cinder.

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    1. (I am such an impostor. Like, I’ve never been to a party with drinking? I generally make good life choices? I spend a lot of time at home and don’t have a crazy number of friends? I enjoy hanging out with my family? Like what is with me, honestly)
      Cinder is really great! I’d love to hear your thoughts! And I really want to read …And A Happy New Year? as well 🙂

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  10. I really enjoyed reading this post! I agree with you that if every book was realistic, it would take ages to get to the point, and there is much more character development than plot in life, haha. Though I really like when I can relate to the characters, in terms of how they feel about things, the world, what they are thinking and how they react. But it’s nice to escape in fantasy books and have a completely different world to be in for a while, while you read. I think the most important thing, for me, is to have realistic characters I can relate to, at least 🙂 Lovely post !

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    1. (OMG I TOOK FOREVER TO REPLY TO THIS WHAT IS WITH ME) . I think the best books have a good balance between realism/relatableness and plot/escape. And fantasy novels are the best when you don’t want to think about the world (especially current events–eek!)

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