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.
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’)
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.
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?