What is realistic fiction? It might not be a stretch of the imagination, but realistic fiction presents its narrative in a way that reflects real life. It is written to represent a narrative in a natural and identifiable way to the reader.
Realistic fiction stories frequently cover some aspect of modern, everyday life. Here are some characteristics of realistic fiction:
- Stories take place in the familiar world, usually in the current era or recent past and mirror contemporary everyday life.
- Characters live in places that the reader knows are real or believably real.
- Characters have relatable issues or are involved in realistic, believable events that could actually happen.
- Conflicts are reality-based and, in some ways, relatable. Conflicts are also resolved (or not) in a realistic way.
- The issues or events in realistic fiction are matters that someone may face in real life, or they could know someone who has faced them.
What is realistic fiction?
Believability is key
If there is one thing that defines realistic fiction, the stories are believable. In these stories, readers will find real-world settings and characters in stories that feel the same as the reality they share.
The settings in a realistic fiction story are the ones we already know. It might be a public school, a hospital, or a sports event. If it is not based on something familiar to the reader, it should be rooted in reality or realism, making the setting believable.
While a setting like outer space can be believable, it is not realistic for most people’s experiences, and you would be less likely to see that depicted in a realistic fiction story. Setting the story at the base station on earth might be a better idea.
As much as people love the character of Superman, he’s not a very believable character. He is an alien from a dead planet who lives between two identities on earth while fighting for justice and the American way. That certainly captures our imagination, but it is understood that this is external to realistic characters.
Characters in realistic fiction will be just like real people. They could be just like people you know. They’ll have positive traits and negative ones. Some will be tall, and others will be small. They will have their abilities but also their vulnerabilities, and some shade of the characters in a realistic fiction story will remind us of ourselves or someone we know or someone we know of. They will be fictional characters, but they will still feel real.
Feats of enormous strength are humanly possible but rare. Believable stories are ones that could happen to anyone. Being stuck in line at the DMV, getting into a car crash, or taking a trip to Italy are examples of stories we know happen in life. These are stories people might have experienced, wish to experience, or never want to experience.
Believability is the cornerstone of realistic fiction. If the story is not believable, how can it be realistic?
Examples of realistic fiction
A popular example from the realistic fiction genre would be The Fault in our Stars by John Green, a book about a teenage girl struggling with cancer. In this regard, it is fiction about something set in real life, in a manner that readers can identify or empathize with.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney is about a young boy who must navigate the turbulent world of middle school. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger is about a maladjusted teen who struggles to find out where he belongs.
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
- To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
This genre consists of real, historical events and writes a fictional narrative into the timeline. The characters, setting, and events might be rooted in reality, but details or the entire narrative are fictional. It is rooted in realistic fiction in depicting a real moment in history, with characters and events that could be real. JFK might be a character, as in Don DeLillo’s Libra, but some or all of the aspects of the story are fictional.
What divides the two genres is how historical fiction does not necessarily bind itself to the recent past. It might go back twenty years or could go back a thousand. It uses fact as a foundation and could be realistic, but tends to be further back in history than the events portrayed in the realistic fiction genre.
If To Kill a Mockingbird was written today in its exact form, it would be considered historical fiction. But since it was written when it was set, it is deemed realistic fiction. (Though due to its age, it might now be also regarded as historical fiction).
Since realistic fiction is rooted in the real world and real events, the authors commit to a certain amount of research to ensure that their work is accurate and believable.
Out of respect for the events and people portrayed (even partly), writers must commit to a certain level of research to truly understand the subjects they write about. John Green had to understand the types of cancer he was writing about in The Fault in Our Stars, and so he needed to research the topics to accurately and realistically represent them.
Even if authors have experienced these things first hand, research helps them better understand the circumstances leading up to the event or how to depict the events in the story better.
Responsibility in realistic fiction
Authors of realistic fiction must be sensitive to stereotypes and offensive depictions of disadvantaged people. If an author is going to write about the impact cancer might have on a family or the shock that racism might have on new immigrants, it makes sense that the writer should understand something of that topic before they sit down to write about it.
Writing realistic fiction
If you are interested in crafting your own realistic fiction book, consider the above parameters. Like other genres, there are norms for those particular genres, and realistic fiction is no different in that regard. When stories resemble something that might happen in real life, they are realistic fiction.
If an author can make their realistic fiction conjure questions that the reader has about their own reality, they will make their book more engaging.
When you write realistic fiction, you must work within the believable setting of a real-world context in the current day or recent history. The story will need to feel contemporary, with current events or modern cultural indicators and lifestyles. Social or personal events should feel like they are occurring today.
Locations will be real locations that the reader knows, has heard of, or can easily research for themselves.
You must have characters that reflect the depth of a real person, one the reader might know. They will need to move through the real world you’ve created in completely realistic ways. They will have characteristics like the reader’s, or at least familiar or interesting to them. This can involve mannerisms, patterns of speaking, appearance, history, flaws, etc.
Characters in realistic fiction must be someone that you could pass on the street. That means no superheroes. (Real-life superheroes are an exception)
The conflict will be relatable. If the reader hasn’t experienced it, they know that someone in today’s world could experience it. They will know that it is a conflict that will mirror contemporary life somehow, whether it be human versus human or human versus technology.
The conflict might be internal as well. It might be human versus self, including internal and external struggles with mental illness.
Research is likely necessary to create a compelling and believable fiction story. Even when a writer is full of knowledge about a particular subject, they will probably have to do some research to help fill in the gaps.
Do your realistic fiction justice and give it the credibility it deserves. Know your topics as well as you should, as the credibility and accuracy will provide you with readers that cling to your every word and want to continue reading your books.
Stay in your lane
It might be impossible to avoid stepping on some toes, but it would be wise to avoid meddling with stereotypes, social issues, or fiction that might exploit any group of people that you are not a part of. If you are not a black author, it would not be a good idea to write realistic fiction from the perspective of a black person.
If an author feels their work is well intended, then it is another reason why thorough research is needed to ensure they know their topic enough to give it the respect it deserves.
Realistic fiction resembles the world we live in, with lives, traits, and settings that we recognize. The stories resemble real everyday life and show us ourselves in the world, or a part of the world we didn’t know about and will command empathy and awe from readers due to the relatability of the world in which the character lives or struggles.
Every news story we see, every rider on a bus, and every smile on the street has a story attached. Characteristics of realistic fiction capture those moments and characters to reflect the world we know and understand and to build bridges to help us better understand each other and other cultures.
Realistic stories can also help a reader understand certain things within themselves. When they identify with the conflicts and realities of the characters in a realistic fiction book, they better understand themselves and their own dilemmas when they find themselves reacting to what is being read.
Even if the reader does not fully relate to the book’s content, due to the realistic nature of what has been written, they will gain insights that are authentic and insightful. Whether a short story or a novel, realistic fiction sets out to share an experience from the modern world.