Saturday, January 26, 2008

Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction – Good Thing We’re Not Writing That!

As fiction writers, it’s not our job to tell the truth. In fact, our job is to lie and not get caught. It’s something I learned when I was forced to write something in the genre of ‘realistic fiction,’ which is quite the oxymoron. I guess this post is more of a clarification of those comments that didn’t really make any sense on my post about ‘hope’, concerning ‘hyperrealism.’

Mostly, I just have a bone to pick with ‘realism’ in fiction. If I may, Bethany claimed that one of the selling points to reluctant readers for edgy YA is realism, in that it has “situations and a world that is closer to what they experience every day, so they don’t have to work so hard to suspend disbelief.” That’s not realism. Though it may have the face of things that happen every day, any story is a very closed world, one that is trimmed of the fat of everyday existence and unimportant details, unlike real life. A story has a focus, and more importantly, a plot. So many things happen in day to day life that are completely unrelated, but in literature everything has something to do with something – if it was pointless, it would have been cut out during edits.

It’s the same with realistic dialogue. Dialogue that uses swears and current slang isn’t realistic; actual human dialogue is choppy, full of incomplete sentences and inanity, and so much of it sounds more like repetitive, animal-like emission rather than something that you’d find in a book. People speaking are people communicating information to each other, while in a book, that’s rarely the reason. Dialogue is for advancement of plot, themes, character development, et cetera, and let’s face it, nobody would want to hear actual, unscripted human dialogue and thought. That’s why we edit.

It’s all a matter of being stylized. It’s less important to be realistic than it is to not jar the reader out of the tone that’s been established for the story. If the tone of a story is gritty, it’s not right to put in some happy fluffy bunnies, though everyone knows that just as life is bad, life can be good. Compare a fictional diary to an actual one – they’re usually completely different. Though an actual person’s life will have ups and downs, typically fiction has the basic structure of tolerable > worse > bad > horrible > good, or just cuts off at ‘horrible’ if the story doesn’t have a happy ending. Real life doesn’t have denountement or such closure that a story typically has, and if a story doesn’t have these things, it’s usually considered to be dissatisfying and leave the readers pining for them and being otherwise frustrated.

Truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction is unrealistic because, unlike the truth, fiction has to make sense. The only time when being unrealistic is a problem is when you shatter your suspension of disbelief. So, rather than tell the truth, lie like a dog – just be sure not to get caught.

110 comments:

bethany said...

So, would you argue that Looking for Alaska was not more realistic than Lord of the Rings?

bethany said...

Realistic fiction as a genre was created to help purchasers tell the difference between things that could happen in everyday life (parents getting divorced, moving to a new town, choosing between boyfriends) as opposed to fantasy (saving world with magic ring, battling dragons, befriending dragons) urban fantasy (choosing between vampire boyfriend and werewolf boyfriend) okay, I digress.

Realistic fiction is based on things that could conceivably happen.

And it does appeal more to many reluctant readers.

Books are all basically about the human condition. I love to read a good fantasy with a character who has a moral dilemma over something that has never and will never happen to me. But for readers without as much imagination, or without as much practice in using their imaginations, it’s easier to connect to things that have happened to them. For example, starting a new school. Most everyone has started a new school, or has been at a school and met a new student. When they encounter this familiar situation, they can either go, well this is just like what happened to me, or this character is reacting differently from the way I acted, and it’s easier for them to get into the character.

So for me being tightly plotted and "stylized" doesn't make it unrealistic, it just makes it readable.

Meggy said...

I think this is just an argument of semantics. What you think we're saying by realistic fiction is not what realistic fiction is to most of its writers. I agree with Bethany. It's about things that could conceivably happen, even if these things that happen are more exciting, have better dialogue, more wrapped-in-a-bow, etc.

Haphazard said...

I've never read Looking for Alaska, nor Lord of the Rings, but under my argument, yes, neither of them are more realistic than the other.

Being set in a real locale with normal people has nothing to do with anything. Therefore, a tightly plotted story about a kid going to a new school and a tightly plotted story concerning vampires are no more realistic than each other.

Yes, being tightly plotted and stylized does make something less realistic, as in less like real life, and therefore less realistic. Dramatization, humor, and closure just add to that. There's no problem with being unrealistic, though, just as long as you don't get caught.

Meggy said...

Yes, books are more unrealistic than life, but sometimes life can be dramatic and humorous and so on. Sometimes there are realizations. Sometimes there is closure. It's all possible.

And, as far as we know, vampires are not.

Not that there's anything wrong with writing about vampires or anything, but I find the argument that a YA romance and a YA fantasy to have the same amount of realism to be pretty ridiculous.

Also, all those boring, mundane things you say would have to be included to call our books realistic still happen in the lives of my characters. They eat boring meals, they hang out, they go to the bathroom, etc. I just don't show those parts. That doesn't mean they don't happen. Scene breaks are there for a reason!

Haphazard said...

"Yes, books are more unrealistic than life, but sometimes life can be dramatic and humorous and so on. Sometimes there are realizations. Sometimes there is closure. It's all possible."

Yes, it does happen sometimes -- but happening with such consistency that it'd happen in any piece of fiction is to the point of it becoming -- hey, there's that word again -- unrealistic.

Being possible and being realistic are entirely different things. Being believable and being realistic are entirely different things.

bethany said...

Then should we just change the category to possible fiction and be done with it? Realistic fiction isn't even a real genre category. So since I say I write contemporary realistic YA, I mean I write stories set in modern times without vampires or fantasy elements, in other words, it COULD HAPPEN, for a teenage audience.

Haphazard said...

The term isn't what I'm arguing with. A lot of things in the English language are misnomers, like Chinese food, which is nothing like actual food in China at all.

I'm just arguing with considering fiction actually 'realistic,' and that realism is needed to suspend disbelief. That's not true at all -- it's believability that's needed to suspend disbelief, not realism.

Meggy said...

Definitions of realistic from my trusty http://www.dictionary.com:

1. interested in, concerned with, or based on what is real or practical: a realistic estimate of costs; a realistic planner.
2. pertaining to, characterized by, or given to the representation in literature or art of things as they really are: a realistic novel.

I think, according to these definitions, fiction can be realistic.

And now I'm officially stepping out of this post and will stop arguing...ha ha.

Meggy said...

Ah, wait...one more definition. Then I'll be gone.

3. resembling or simulating real life:


Books can RESEMBLE real life, in my opinion.

Haphazard said...

"pertaining to, characterized by, or given to the representation in literature or art of things as they really are: a realistic novel."

As they really are? Isn't that just a matter of point of view, though? Even so, I've never read a realistic novel in my entire life, and I've read plenty of realistic fiction.

bethany said...

And I will say again, that it is my job to get kids to read, so I show them a variety of books. I have about 2k in my classroom and our school library is fully stocked.

Every person is different. But I find it easier to interest the average popularion that I deal with in books that they can connect with.

Certain people stop reading when they come across magical or unrealistic elements. They go, I don't believe that, or I think it's dumb.

You know what they love? A Child Called It. It isn't fiction, it's heartbreaking, it's true. Did he write it exactly like it happened? Or is some of it stylizded? You'd have to ask Dave Peltzer.

bethany said...

Last remark, I want to say that I do think fantasy is great for kids, and I am fully aware and thankful for all that JK Rowling has done with HP.

If I was reading HP with a very reluctant reader I would point out the things they could connect with, the human elements, but with a very low easily frustrated reader who was older, I'd go for a Chris Crutcher book every time.

SuzanneYoung said...

I think it's important to keep in mind that most books are just a snapshot. Not someone's entire life played out second by second. That's not unrealistic, it's editing.

And Alaska's dialogue was very realistic. Keep in mind that just because some of the people you know don't talk that way, it doesn't mean it's not realistic.

I guarantee the way my friend's talk and they way yours do is very different. Doesn't mean mine is any less real. It just means you haven't been exposed to it yet.

So for me, to write realistic fiction, I have to be able to look beyond myself and accept there are other realities. That's what makes me a good writer. Saying that my writing is lies is actually sort of offense to me. I write very honestly. Just because you don't get it, doesn't make it less true.

Read some more realistic fiction and revisit the argument.

Haphazard said...

So many writers have said that they tell lies that are more important than the truth. Saying that something is lies isn't offensive.

Even relaying a story to a friend is 'embellishing on the truth.'

I'm not talking about how my friends talk. I'm talking about how people, as human beings, talk. Repetition is a part of the language for a reason -- it helps people understand thing. Redundancy is there for a reason. It's a part of how human being communicate. This sort of thing is cut from dialogue in books. Therefore. Unrealistic.

I could argue about redundancy until the cows come home. I highly doubt that the ways your friends speak doesn't include any redundancy. That's impossible, as far as human thought goes.

SuzanneYoung said...

My dialogue is repetitive and once again, I don't think you are reading any realistic fiction. I think you are assuming you know what it's about.

But yeah, my dialogue reads the way people talk. So it is realistic. Just because the people in the story aren't real, doesn't make it unrealistic.

And I've used the word unrealistic about 14 times too many. Oops. That was being unrealistic. hahha

Haphazard said...

No, I'm not assuming. I'm talking about the difference between the repetition and rhythm in real speech and the rhythm and repetition in fictional speech -- which is usually much less repetitious, or stylistically repetitive.

If you take a normal conversation and write it out, word for word for word for word, it would not make good dialogue. It would need to be cleaned up -- which is exactly what the author does.

SuzanneYoung said...

Funny you should mention that. With my writing class, I had them do just that. I had two students adlib a scene in front of the class. The rest of the students had to write down what they said, word for word for word. Then add in the he saids, she saids.

It was an exercise in realistic dialogue. And it read like most of the stuff I read. Get some good books!!!!!!! Bethany should have a list.

Haphazard said...

Yes, but they were AD LIBBING A SCENE. They were under the assumption that what they were talking about had a purpose. It was a scene, not every day life.

Realistic dialogue and good dialogue are independent of each other.

Sage said...

This (at least the comments) is very much reading like a semantical argument, even though it's been said that it's not.

SuzanneYoung said...

haha. Hap, this is the Suz and Hap show.

That's what I mean though. My books aren't about every day. They are about a particular day, or week or month. So stuff is edited out. But like Meggy said, it doesn't mean it's not happening off page.

My books are about something, not just eavesdropping on peoples' conversations.

That would be really boring. And pointless.

Haphazard said...

You say that you're 'editing out the boring parts.'

Can we assume that these conversations that ARE in the story are real to the characters, though? Or are they, too, edited? If they're edited, how do we know what else is edited? Has all of it been passed through a filter?

If that's the case, that in realistic fiction, everything's been filtered to that extent, that breaks my suspension of disbelief much faster than any vampires ever could.

Readers have to take the story as it is, and it's easier to believe that a story is not realistic rather than start with the tin-hat theories of what exactly has been cut out of the story, and if it's important to the characterization or anything or not.

Sage said...

"If that's the case, that in realistic fiction, everything's been filtered to that extent, that breaks my suspension of disbelief much faster than any vampires ever could."

So vampire stories don't have this filtering going on?

I must have missed all the bathroom breaks and "um"s in Buffy....

"Readers have to take the story as it is, and it's easier to believe that a story is not realistic rather than start with the tin-hat theories of what exactly has been cut out of the story, and if it's important to the characterization or anything or not."

Most people don't go in looking for what's been cut out. When you say "realistic" fiction, the average reader is going to assume FICTION, but fiction with situations they could possibly find in their own lives. They don't expect it to be non-fiction, or even for the dialogue to use the "um"s and pauses and "you know" (even though I use a lot of the latter) that you would hear in the real world. Readers want their fiction to be polished, even dialogue--it doesn't matter if it's spec fic, thrillers, romance, or even based on a true story.

So what exactly is the problem...? Just the word?

Aslera said...

Hap, what are some books that you think some of us would term realistic that you would disagree with?

If I use your definition of realism in fiction, then I think I would have this reply back. As readers age, fiction becomes increasingly less realistic. What first graders across the board tend to like are books they can relate to: thus, non-fantasy as bethany said. I agree with her that reluctant readers are likelier to pick up a "realistic fiction" than Harry Potter.

Some of the dialogue that I've written has been rapid fire, short sentence fragments and full of idiomatic expressions. Dialogue like that can help suspend reality in a fantasy book (most of what I write IS fantasy).

But on the other hand, in my single "realistic fiction mss", I do thing you deal with the 'boring' stuff of life. Because sometimes the boring stuff is the stuff that drives a character.

I do not read much YA realistic fiction, honestly, but I would call it realistic fiction. Lacking magical elements, elements that do not exist in our world (and as far as we know, never existed), and dealing with modern day problems? Yes. Generally speaking, the movies I enjoy the most are realistic fiction and are generally based off realistic fiction novels.

I have rambled. I blame the cold meds.

Haphazard said...

Sagers seems to get my point.

Yes, my problem is with the term, but not with the term 'realistic fiction,' but with the idea that adding 'realism' makes something 'edgy.' What makes something edgy is approaching topics that are usually pushed to the side with heart, not adding 'realism.' Saying that it adds 'realism' completely gives the wrong idea of what's actually going on in edgy YA.

Lera said...

Hap, that's interesting. I didn't get that from your post but again, my reading abilities right now are not up to par.

Haphazard said...

Lera, I'm just notoriously bad at getting my point across.

Jordan said...

I think most everyone here is saying the same thing. It's just the words we're getting hung-up on.

Everyone agrees that things that happen in books don't happen that way in real life. If they did, why would writers be so respected? We have to mold life into logical and structural books, which simulate reality. It's all about the gloss. We recognize elements in life within the pages of a book and make a connection, whether it be dragon/vampire/zombie fantasy or contemporary high school drama.

Perhaps we need to stop using the words "realistic" and "unrealistic," at least within the context of this blog post, and perhaps then we'll see that everyone here is basically on the same page.

And contemporary non-magical plausible fiction....the kind of stuff Bethany uses to get reluctant readers to read because it's easier for them to identify...being without dragons and whatnot...is what most people mean when they say "realistic fiction." Not that it's a carbon-copy of life. But that is contains elements of contemporary human life that happen, could happen, will happen (but not in such a neat package as a work of fiction). Things that kids see happening in their real lives.

Agree? (Since we're defining things here.)

Lera said...

Or, I just struggle with this "edgy" and "realism" thing just as much as you do. I don't write edgy or realism, and I don't read it too much. I'm trying to learn though because it seems that a lot of people here are doing edgy and realism. I loooove this blog :) It's a really good medium for this type of thing.

bethany said...

Yes, my problem is with the term, but not with the term 'realistic fiction,' but with the idea that adding 'realism' makes something 'edgy.' What makes something edgy is approaching topics that are usually pushed to the side with heart, not adding 'realism.' Saying that it adds 'realism' completely gives the wrong idea of what's actually going on in edgy YA


Huh? When did anyone say that, and when did you address it? Many edgy titles fall under the headng of realistic, that doesn't mean all realistic is edgy, or that all edgy is realistic (some YA fantasy and especially urban fantasy have ver edgy elements).

Jordan said...

Hap, I didn't get that from your post at all... (sorry)

But it's a very interesting and valid point, and while I don't presume to know what edgy means...because I'm just as confused about it as you can possibly be...I might be inclined to agree with you.

I think, perhaps, what I'm trying to do as a writer is incorporate "edgy" elements into less...plausible...settings. For instance, taking it outside the high school classroom and plopping it down in the Michigan wilderness with crazy comic book conspirators after you. Not plausible...but the way the characters react and interact--completely plausible. I deal in real human emotions, not processed cheese food!

So again....what the hell IS edgy, anyway? :D

Haphazard said...

Jordan: Yes, but I'm not arguing with the term 'realistic fiction.' I'm arguing with the idea that realism is what makes something more appealing to readers, when really it has no place in fiction.

Haphazard said...

Bethany, I was thinking in your post when you said that part of what appealed to reluctant readers is 'realism,' when in fact fiction, as a whole, is not realistic at all. If your reluctant readers just wanted realism, they would remain reluctant readers.

Jordan said...

So...this?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Literary_realism

Andrew Carmichael said...

First of all. Realistic doesn't mean real. It's not non-fiction. It's not called real fiction. It's called realistic because it's similar to reality. It's close to it. There are many parallels to everyday life. It's realistic. It's not real.

Books that are realistic fiction don't say that they are real. They're saying that they're common events happening in a way that, if someone told you about it on a street corner you wouldn't think they were insane. Sure, sometimes realistic fiction is contrived, but something life is weird. It's stuff that could happen, even if it likely won't.

Fantasy, like Lord of the Rings or things with dragons, fairies, etc. require some extra something to be added to the world that isn't already there. That why it's not realistic.

In realistic fiction, a kid might lose his mom in a plane accident. There might be a girl waiting for the hot guy to ask her out. It's stuff that's happened to many people, or could happen to someone you know, etc.

Now, for fantasy (let's say). When's the last time you saw a dragon outside your window? When's the last time you jumped down a rabbit hole and founda whole new world. When's the last time you got a letter to go to wizarding school? If you have answers to those questions, then maybe that's realistic fiction for you. But since the general population couldn't give actual answers to those questions, they're not realistic.

What makes realistic fiction realistic isn't that it's real. Obviously the settings are made up, the situations and characters and dialogue are all placed and formed for a specific reason. Yes, it's a lie. But realistic fiction doesn't claim to be true. It doesn't claim to be real. It's realistic. It's like real. It's like truth. But it's not. Just similar, that's all.

Jordan said...

This is from another wikipedia page, about Realism in the arts, and I think it's something that everyone here can agree on. It refers to visual arts, but I'm sure we can also agree that it carries over into all art forms, including fiction.

"However no art can ever be fully realistic. Distortion in form, simplification of details are required for any painting. Taking this argument further, newer forms of art like Surrealism, hyperrealism, Magic Realism have developed in the field of visual art."

So I think what we're talking about here is art (re:fiction) that's considered "realistic" as opposed to art that can be considered "hyperrealistic."

It's very true that no art can completely and realistically represent life...word for word, pixel for pixel...but seems to me that since there is an entire movement of Western Literature called "realism," we can safely say that books can fall under this category of realism, realistic, or what have you.

SuzanneYoung said...

"Bethany, I was thinking in your post when you said that part of what appealed to reluctant readers is 'realism,' when in fact fiction, as a whole, is not realistic at all. If your reluctant readers just wanted realism, they would remain reluctant readers."

Hap, teaching is an interesting profession. You learn a lot even as you teach it. You want to use this extreme with the term realistic. Again, REALISTIC. NOT REAL.

And yes, Reluctant readers do enjoy REALISTIC fiction. Don't dispute that when you haven't tried to get kids to read. I have. And I 100% agree with Bethany.

Now edgy! haha. This has become the buzz word of this blog. Edgy will be different for everyone because we all have different values and ideas. I'd stop trying to figure it out. If you're trying to be edgy, you're not doing it right. :D

Sage said...

"I'm arguing with the idea that realism is what makes something more appealing to readers, when really it has no place in fiction."

This seems to be returning to the semantics over the words "realism" and "realistic."

What I see of bethany's argument is that because the situations are realistic to a reader, the book is more appealing.

What I see of your argument is that those books aren't realistic because things aren't exactly as they are in real life.

Jordan was right in that the terms "realistic/realism" are what's tripping everyone up here.

Haphazard said...

Using realistic fiction to get reluctant readers to read is like the old bait and switch, deceptive but for a good cause. You appeal to somebody because it involves things that the reader is involved with every day, and then BANG! Holy crap! They're reading something of merit!

I'm not debating the term realistic fiction, as I've said a billion times, but I'm debating that what makes it appealing is realism. I'm debating the term REALISM to describe fiction, not REALISTIC FICTION, and that realism is what makes reluctant readers read. It's familiarity that makes them read, not realism.

Andrew Carmichael said...

I agree with Suz. Edgy is something different for everyone. If you sit and thing, "Imma write some EDGE today!" then you're not doing it. You're probably just going to write nonsense or ridiculousness.

Honestly, I don't think most authors who write "edgy" consider their own stuff to be "edgy". It's more that other people, whether it be stuffy writers, crazy parents, the general population, or someone else, has deemed the story to be too much for common life and, thus, edgy.

Haphazard said...

Jordan, I saw Wikipedia's article on Literary Realism. It seems that I just really hate the French. You know, first Existentialism, now this...

It's not that these situations are realistic at all, it's that they're familiar situations in familiar locales. Just because something's familiar doesn't make it realistic.

Andrew Carmichael said...

Well, Hap, I would say that when most people here say realism they're meaning the noun form of realistic, not something else, which is how I'm assuming you're looking at it.

So it's realism (in the form of realistic situations) that can get some kids to read. We're not talking about realism and saying, Look it's real and like life and read this! That's not how things go.

From what I know about the books you read I don't think they'd be considered realistic fiction by the general population. Also, you're not a reluctant reader. Maybe you don't even like reality. Could an issue here be the fact that you just don't understand another's point of view, not that they're wrong or lying or tricking people or something?

Andrew Carmichael said...

"It's not that these situations are realistic at all, it's that they're familiar situations in familiar locales. Just because something's familiar doesn't make it realistic."

Then what, exactly, would make something realistic. Because surely a realistic situation that familiar to many people in a realistic setting that's familiar to many people featuring realistic characters that are familiar to everyone could point to the fact that the story is realistic.

Though, maybe not at all and I'm just insane or something.

Haphazard said...

Realistic in conjuction with the word fiction means something entirely different than the word realistic on its own. It's the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.

courtney said...

I agree with meggy--this is an argument of semantics. A lot of hair-splitting and generalizing is going for this post to support what seems to me like a very narrow point of view. If I say Looking for Alaska was verbatim, the way me and my friends talked, than no one can deny me its realism or MY realism. To say that no fiction realistically or accurately reflects the way humans speak, act, thing, connect, interact, you'd have to read all fiction and know all humans. Impossible. Never mind that people often filter and censor themselves in real life, anticipate, analyse and rehearse. That's a reality, it's not a lie. So if fiction reflects this, isn't it reflecting... a truth?

A lie is a deception. Fiction is not a deception. When people pick up a book to read, they know they're reading a story--they're not deceived.

Jordan said...

"Honestly, I don't think most authors who write "edgy" consider their own stuff to be "edgy". It's more that other people, whether it be stuffy writers, crazy parents, the general population, or someone else, has deemed the story to be too much for common life and, thus, edgy."

Andy, that is the best definition I've ever come across!! Because, yea, to ME, it seems "edgy" has something of a bad connotation, and I was trying to reconcile my own views of the literary world (something I do a lot, haha) with this "buzz word" that seemed to mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

I think you deserve a gold start!


(And for the record, as a rule I don't try to write stuff. I got enough trouble with all the things leaking out of my head unbidden! :D

Jordan said...

That'd be gold STAR, not start!

Haphazard said...

The reason I've been splitting so many hairs is because people are arguing semantics rather than what I was trying to say in the original post.

Sasha said...

Although we've branched off the topic of the original post a bit, I have to say that I love this comment:
"If you're trying to be edgy, you're not doing it right."

SuzanneYoung said...

"From what I know about the books you read I don't think they'd be considered realistic fiction by the general population. Also, you're not a reluctant reader. Maybe you don't even like reality. Could an issue here be the fact that you just don't understand another's point of view, not that they're wrong or lying or tricking people or something?"

Thank you andrew. I stood up and Clapped. And Jordan! haha. I can relate! If the stories would stop coming out on their own, maybe I could try to write something. haha.

Courtney, as usual, you are brilliant.

This is fun stuff people. ahha. Really entertaining.

Andrew Carmichael said...

Thanks for the gold star(t) Jordan!! :)



"Realistic in conjuction with the word fiction means something entirely different than the word realistic on its own. It's the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."

And, sorry, but I really don't think that was the best analogy because they're refering to completely different things with the only similarity being photons. Realisic is an adjective...it modifies the word fiction. It doesn't mean something different when it's alone. It's still an adjective. It's just that when it's attached to the noun, the noun is more important (because it's a noun) and so it has a slightly different idea and usage. But it's the same word. [Lightning like electricity is a noun. Lightning in lightning bug is an adjective. Not the same.]

courtney said...

There needs to be an lolcat of that.

IF U TRYIN 2B EDGY, U DOIN IT WRONG.

(tm sue)

Haphazard said...

And Andy, I find your posts offensive.

bethany said...

But see, you never once (unless I'm missing it) said the word edgy in your original post, but you just said your post was about my assertion that realistic and edgy fiction is more appealing to reluctant readers.

And the whole lightning/lighning bug thing, semantics.

Andrew Carmichael said...

"And Andy, I find your posts offensive."

Sorry if you find my posts offensive, but I'm just trying to get my points across, just like you are. If you're taking offense then I feel you're reading my comments in a way I didn't intend. But I apologize.

Haphazard said...

Fine then, perhaps I should phrase the lightning/lightning bug analogy a different way.

Think about the difference between fantasy fiction and an actual fantasy. A fantasy story has all the parts of a normal story, only in a setting, or with elements, that are fantastical and not real. A fantasy, however, deals rather with something that somebody would like to happen, whether it be realistic, in that it is plausible with real life elements, or not.

Fantasy fiction doesn't deal with the wish fufilment that goes with the term 'fantasy.' Realistic fiction doesn't deal with the extraneous things that don't belong in a story that happen in 'reality.'

Andrew Carmichael said...

Nope, still not working for me.

Fantasy in fantasy fiction is an adjective.

A fantasy, as a noun, is...well, a noun.

You can't compare them.

bethany said...

How is tailoring a book to a kid bait and switch? Because I'm picking a book that falls under the sub category of realistic and you don't find books in that category realistic? Again with the semantics (you're the one quibbling over them as far as I can tell). Sometimes I read books out loud to kids, and they say things like, that was the best book I ever read. Technically they didn't read it, did they? I guess I bait and switch all day long by trying every trick I have to try to get kids to enjoy learning, when we all know that learning is tedious and troublesome, right?

Haphazard said...

See, Andy...

"From what I know about the books you read I don't think they'd be considered realistic fiction by the general population. Also, you're not a reluctant reader. Maybe you don't even like reality. Could an issue here be the fact that you just don't understand another's point of view, not that they're wrong or lying or tricking people or something?"

Whether it's true or not, it's belittling me and invalidating my argument. At least, that's how it appears to me.

bethany said...

But see, Andy's right in that I've had many psychology classes, read books about teaching reading, and have done this job for ten years.

My fantasy readers generally don't need prompting. I sit and talk to them, some of them emailed me when Robert Jordan died, but they don't need to be convinced to read.

I don't know that you read any realistic stuff, and that's cool. If you want my list of all time favorites, NONE of them are realistic books. They all have some fantastic element. And I was NEVER a reluctant reader. I've been reading since I was 4.

Jordan said...

"Bait and switch" has a very connotation.

In what way is it a switch? You take away the thing they like (a book they can identify with) and give them...what?

Is the book they can identify with (and please agree that most if not all readers of fiction engage in some form of identification) a bad thing? Is getting kids to read books they like bad?

I'm sorry. But as writers talking about writing we MUST own our words, and try to speak as clearly as possible. If something we say is not clear, it's our responsibility to clarify and not blame people for getting the wrong idea, or one not intended. Words are our only tools, after all!

bethany said...

What I meant that Andy was right about was that you aren't a reluctant reader and don't read stuff that would be considered "realistic".

Haphazard said...

Andy, my argument still stands with the term 'fantasy.' A 'fantasy vacation' is totally different than 'fantasy fiction.' The same way, 'realistic revenue' is different than how the word's used in 'realistic fiction'.

Jordan said...

NEGATIVE CONNOTATION!

Man I need to learn how to proofread!

(owning my words...clarifying...etc.)

bethany said...

My fantasies have entire plots and characters.

Haphazard said...

'Bait and switch' has a negative connotation but I didn't mean that it was negative to get kids to read.

I mean, come on. You bait them with familiar situations, and then... they're reading, doing something that they wouldn't normally do, because of the bait. Isn't that what you're doing?

I have to admit that actually I'm a closet historical fiction fan...

hannah said...

I agree with Andy. (duh)

I also think that you are making good points, Hap, but that they would seem more valid if you used examples of actual YA books. Yes, yes, I know that you don't read them, but I feel as if you're making blind judgments.

Andrew Carmichael said...

Hap.

1) I wasn't insulting your reading choices. I didn't read realistic fiction until recently. When I was younger, I certainly wouldn't have understood some of the arguements I'm making now because I wasn't one of the target people. Even now, the only reason I understand the reluntant reader arguement is because most of my friends don't read at all and I spent lots of time helping them find books for class in high school. I'm no insulting your choices. I'm trying to make a point.

2. Fantasy also has different definitions. Realistic does, too. But they're more in line with each other. Fantasy has many, many definitions. I'm still not seeing your arguement here.

Haphazard said...

Andy, from what I've seen, what you're posting has nothing to do with whether you understand reluctant readers or not. I agree that realistic fiction can be used to get reluctant readers to read. I am not arguing with that.

From what I see, you've been arguing semantics with me. How is understanding reluctant readers helping you with that?

Andrew Carmichael said...

My comment about reluctant readers is in response to my comment to you about the books you read. I'm not connecting the reluctant reader comment with my word choice comments.

Hence the 1 and 2.

bethany said...

Oh and I've never suggested I have a special knowledge of edgy. Just that there's a feeling to edgy, like it's kinda bad, kinda forbidden, if you can get that oooh, gotta read this gotta see what happens sort of vibe to kids it translates to more interested readers.

courtney said...

Oh and before I forget: this discussion is awesome. Again with the provoking-ness.

Am I the only one who is rabidly refreshing it? And kind of hoping it breaks 100 comments? Of awesomeness?

bethany said...

I think it's kinda running down. I think it's possible that Hap has given in. But perhaps my saying this will provoke her so that she leaps back in with (non realistic) flamethrower on super scorch. . . . I know, those are freaking big elepsises.

Haphazard said...

I kind of feel that this argument can be left as an argument of semantics.

SuzanneYoung said...

haha. Sounds like she's tossing in the towel to me. ;)

Just kidding, Hap.

Haphazard said...

I just have a little story to tell.

What happened one day is that I had to write a realistic fiction story for an assignment.

I told my teacher that I didn't think I could do it. Reality was too boring.

And then she told me, "You're not writing reality. You're still writing a story."

And then suddenly, I understood.


That story was based on fact, though I embellished it enough to make it interesting, and cut out the unimportant parts, therefore making it less realistic. But still. It's how I was enlightened. And that's really all I have to say about that.

Aslera said...

Hap, I have a question.

If I write a realistic fiction, and include a certain life experience of mine for one of the characters, which include a certain topic that is "edgy" and "hot", does this make it unrealistic fiction? Is this fantasy? Is it edgy simply for the sake of being edgy?

I'm not trying to push your buttons, I'm trying to clarify in my brain.

courtney said...

I just don't get how taking out the less relevant parts of reality makes a story less realistic. It makes it more concise, but I don't think to be concise is to make something less realistic. Just because you're streamlining a reality doesn't mean you're taking away from that reality to do so. And if someone reads that story and says it's totally realistic... why isn't it? For me to tell them it isn't, I'd have to know what their reality/truth/whatever was and if I don't know that...

(maybe there will be 100 comments of awesome yet!!)

Haphazard said...

I think I've figured it out.

We're arguing over what makes something realistic. I argue that the streamlining of a story makes it less realistic. Perhaps this is shaped from my personal experiences. You're arguing that what makes something realistic is that the events that happen in a story are 'plausible.'

Lera, including life experience will help you with the believability factor in a story, but it doesn't make it more real as long as you tailor those experiences to fit the story. Whether you're using real life experience in your writing does not make it edgy for the sake of being edgy. In fact, I'd say it would more likely make it the opposite, because if they're your life experiences, you may either be writing the story to get a point across, or you may have integrated those experiences into your point of view, and therefore they're not exactly 'edgy' to you and are fair game for story fodder.

Did I answer your questions, Lera?

courtney said...

I'm coming from the point that steamlining a story doesn't make it less realistic... it just makes it streamlined.

Haphazard said...

The entire post is an argument that streamlining makes something less realistic.

So I guess I failed, huh?

SuzanneYoung said...

First, I'd say leave the edgy comments for another thread because it doesn't really apply here. (Plus, no offense) I'm not quite sure you know what it is.

Now, streamlining does not change the believeablity of a story. When you read the newspaper, it's streamlined, watch a documentary, or so on. Is it cut for entertainment value? Sure. Just like fiction. None of us are stupid, Hap. We know our books aren't real.

But I argue that stuff that I read is realistic. You are just not mature enough to accept that their are realities beyond your own. We've all had different lives and experiences. You seem to be hung up on the fact that if it's fiction, it CAN'T be realistic.

Sorry if that hurts your feeligs, but it needs to be said. Now that it is, I still think you're smart and intelligent. You just don't know it all. None of us do.

Aslera said...

Hap, you answered my questions.

Haphazard said...

I'm not saying you think your stories are real.

I do believe that streamlining cuts down on reality. Streamlining something promotes a particular point of view, a focus, a plot. I believe that by doing this, it makes anything less realistic. Because fiction is streamlined, it is not realistic.

I don't see how that argument has to do with me having less life experience than you, or realizing that there are more realities than what I know.

Aslera said...

Interesting, Hap, because my reality does actually revolve around the mundane things in other people's lives.

On the other hand, I write that into a lot of my stories.

I think that Suzanne said this (and pardon me, Suzanne, if I'm interpreting this correctly) because you seem to be saying that ANY reality cannot be put onto paper and packaged into a story. Your reality might not, but I'll be damned if some people's realities aren't 'realistic' and capable of being transferred into a fictional story.

When you tell someone about your day, do you tell them how many times you pooped? What about how many bottles of water did you consume? Did you tell them about that left hand turn you made?

Not everything fits into our descriptions of our realities. If you're not a pathological liar, then telling someone about your day is a reality and leaving out details doesn't make it less. Similarly, leaving out those details does not mean a fictional piece is LESS realistic.

(this being said: disclaimer: I understand pathological lying can be a reality)

courtney said...

"I do believe that streamlining cuts down on reality. Streamlining something promotes a particular point of view, a focus, a plot. I believe that by doing this, it makes anything less realistic. Because fiction is streamlined, it is not realistic."

But then you could alternately argue that it is more realistic for the exactly the same reasons. One realistic element is removed and one remains--whatever the case, both are still, by definition, realistic. I personally don't feel that extraneous scenes/details/whatever are more realistic than more purposeful ones, I feel they're equal and the absence or presence of either doesn't really change this...

SuzanneYoung said...

Because what you think is reality is different than what I think is reality. The difference is that I'm not saying which is right. And you don't know how everyone talks, so you can say what's REALISTIC dialogue and what's not.

Now, if the arguement is that all fiction is fake, Well, DUH! But it doesn't mean it's not realistic. Accept that there are realities beyond what you know. Some people may talk in complete sentences. Some people talk in short sentences. You can't say what's realistic to you is realistic to everyone.

That's all I'm saying. My life experiences were brought up because I'm saying I KNOW that are a lot of different realities. And I can accept that. :D I'm very accepting. lol.

Haphazard said...

I believe that the absence of these scenes does effect the claim that something is 'realistic.'

It's not whether the events are plausible, that the characters are plausible, that the locales are familiar, but that everything is there. If everything was there, these tiny things may effect decisions that characters make in these stories, but because they were over periods of time that you would rather not hear about (taking a dump) or extremely small changes over a very long period of time. Instead, the reader trusts that the author has given everything that the reader needs in the text and subtext and leaves it at that. I find that not like reality.

And Lera, I do lie about how my day was every time I'm asked. I feel that my day cannot be condensed into something explained, so I refuse to answer, or say 'fine,' which is usually a blatant lie, because it was so much more than what can be summed up in the word 'fine.' As you condense, you're getting rid of information that may be vital to interpretation.

Aslera said...

Hap, I don't condense. When people ask me how my day was, they sit down for the long haul.


I imagine your reality's really boring, Hap. I mean, if you couldn't write about your day and feel you accurately conveyed what happened...that's gotta suck.

Haphazard said...

To Suz: Well, what is important when interpreting reality? I believe that it is being complete. Knowing that no story will be complete with every little insignificant detail of life, I must accept that fiction, of any sort, will never be realistic and sit back and enjoy the show. This has served me quite well.

Give me another argument as to why something else is important when interpreting reality.

courtney said...

But if the events are realistic, the characters are realistic, the locale is realistic... then I'm going go out on a limb and call that novel is realistic. :) And if what I am seeing reflects my reality... I'm gonna call it realistic too and I don't see how I could be refuted because that's my personal reality. I sincerely don't believe that the absence of extraneous detail makes a novel less realistic. I think reality can be presented and focused on in many different ways--whether or not it's streamlined--and is not any less 'real' or truthful for it.

Haphazard said...

"I imagine your reality's really boring, Hap. I mean, if you couldn't write about your day and feel you accurately conveyed what happened...that's gotta suck."

I don't believe I could accurately convey what happened because there's so much of it. Reality is so vivid and varied from hour to hour that if I explained everything I sensed and felt, we'd be around for longer than the day I'd actually experienced. How is that boring?

I find the same thing when I argue my points. I say something, and then I feel that I haven't said exactly what I wanted exactly how I wanted, or explained the entirety of what I wanted to say.

Perhaps we should just accept the fact that I'm terrible with words.

SuzanneYoung said...

To Suz: Well, what is important when interpreting reality? I believe that it is being complete.

Good arguement, Hap! Thanks for clarifying. For me, complete doesn't equal reality. For me, it is its ability to BE real. Just because I know every second of a wizard's life, including his bathroom breaks, it is not realistic.

But a girl whose mother has died of cancer and now she is dealing with the aftermath, that is realistic. Even if I don't know every grisly detail.

If you don't trust the authors you read, you should definitely stop reading fiction. I know you said that you are very suspicious of books by nature, so maybe this just isn't the genre for you.

But thank you for clarifying. I feel like I understand your point now. Even though I respectfully disagree. :D

courtney said...

I also don't think a novel's completeness rests upon whether or not I write down my character's every bowel movement and sneeze and insignificant conversation and I think it's kinda unfair to insinuate a novel incomplete because of it. That seems like such an impossibly high standard to set... how could any novel ever satisfy?? :)

Aslera said...

"To Suz: Well, what is important when interpreting reality? I believe that it is being complete."

But that is YOUR reality. YOUR reality says EVERY single thing counts.

Again, you're coming at this from ONE perspective and refusing to say that there are OTHER realities, other interpretations of life so that realistic fiction does exist.

Haphazard said...

Suz: Finally I said a point! I need to get meself a sticker...

I don't trust realistic fiction writers to give me a realistic story, but I trust them to give me a good one, regardless. I don't see what's wrong with that.

I think most people are disagreeing with the point of view of this post, which is under the assumption that realistic = complete. That was taken for granted, I guess.

Haphazard said...

"I also don't think a novel's completeness rests upon whether or not I write down my character's every bowel movement and sneeze and insignificant conversation and I think it's kinda unfair to insinuate a novel incomplete because of it. That seems like such an impossibly high standard to set... how could any novel ever satisfy?? :)"

But that's the thing. I DON'T expect things I read to be realistic. In fact, if they were, I'd be rather disgusted and not read at all.

I expect a good story when I read, not reality. Reality is not a requirement for a good story.

Aslera said...

"reality is not a requirement for a good story."

Absolutely. And realism is not a disqualifier of a good story.

Disqualifier may or may not be a real word. Firefox says no.

SuzanneYoung said...

Well, Hap. Now I think you've got it! And you do make points, you just don't realize it. :D

A good book is a good book. Let's agree to disagree about the rest.

Almost 100 posts!!!!

bethany said...

I wanna be 100

courtney said...

darnit bethany!!!!!!!!
i was hoping to sneak in there!!
:)

bethany said...

Nope, I REALLy am 100, You're just 101!

Haphazard said...

Lera, 'qualifier' is a word, so I don't see why 'disqualifier' can't be.

Although, if you take my definition of realism and apply it to a story, I don't really think that anybody would read it. Yours, they would flock to it.

courtney said...

Ah well.
There were 101 Dalmations!
So it all works out, I suppose.

*jealous*

Hee.

courtney said...

And now that I'm over not being comment 100...

I really think at the end of the day though, it's one of those agree to disagree things. So Haphazard, I respectfully disagree with you but thank you for the sometimes heated discussion because there's no better way to spend a Saturday night as far as I'm concerned. What that says about me, I'd rather not consider. :)

Jordan said...

You think so maybe, I was hoping to edit a least a chapter tonight! :D

courtney said...

Hee, I was hoping to finish one!! But the night's still young.

At least that's what I'm telling myself. :D

Aslera said...

Okay, so I showered, and thought about this discussion. See how you people take over my mind? I blame you for the fact that my shower was 20+ minutes.

Anyways, going back to my "you tell someone about your day" metaphor. Well, don't we tell different people different things about our days? Does not our audience change our voiced realities? Can't realistic fiction be seen in the same light?

Trish Doller said...

After reading and re-reading Hap's post, along with all the comments, I'm going to say something that might shock some of you...

Hap has a good point. At least from my interpretation of her posting.

What I'm "hearing" is that in writing fiction, no matter how close we get, it's never truly real. We stylize, censor, streamline and edit in order to take out the boring moments that would either lose the reader, or have an agent/editor complaining about the pacing. By eliminating those mundanities, we DO lose the true reality.

You can call a body of work "realistic fiction" or "realism". And technically you're not wrong because it resembles reality. But unless our books are hundreds of thousands of pages with every "um", "my life sucks", "I don't feel good.", and "I hate my parents." included, we're as close to reality as we're ever going to get, without actually touching it.

Furthermore, from my understanding of everything I've read tonight, Hap isn't saying it's wrong or right to not be able to touch that reality in writing. She's just saying that's how it is.

Now.

If, Hap, you are suggesting that a book can't be good if it isn't REAL, then not only are you in for a completely disappointing life of reading, but you're short-changing yourself. There are lots of fantastic books that approach reality, that aren't hopeless. I'm not going to suggest any, though, because whenever anyone does, you dismiss it without regard.

So go out... investigate. Read stuff. Even if it upsets your sensibility of what's real and what's not. Because you just might like it.

But your post right now? I get it.

Haphazard said...

Trish, in my blog post I said that 'the only time when being unrealistic is a problem is when it shatters the suspension of disbelief.' Also, as I've said previously in these comments, "I expect a good story when I read, not reality. Reality is not a requirement for a good story."

Does that answer the rest of it?