Quite recently, my significant other wrote an essay titled, "Still Fiction: How Real is Still Alice?" He's a psychology major, and that's a valid question when reading a novel based on early onset Alzheimer's. It led me to wonder about the role realism plays in not only the readers' minds but also the authors'. I can't answer for other authors and readers, but since I can answer for myself, I will.
As a reader, I read to escape reality. Less realistic story lines don't bother me, since I want to read about the extraordinary. Now, the extraordinary can come in many forms--to name a few: exceptional love, relationships, sex, people, circumstances, etc. I love these elements in a novel. Without them, I usually don't find myself intrigued. I don't want to know about the grocery trip you take every week. I want to know about that one time you fell in love with a man who broke your heart. The man that left you gutted and beyond feeling. That's what I want to know about, but I'd like that on a macroscopic scale.
Now, as an author, I find it hard not to blur the lines between real and fake. At Harvard, I am surrounded by extraordinary people that many readers may find unrealistic themselves. For instance, in grad school, one of my classmates in a writing intensive philosophy course is twelve. TWELVE. English isn't even her first language and she's almost ten years younger than me, but man, she can hold her own in a graduate-level philosophical debate on material that makes my head ache.
The side effect of meeting such unreal people? They become the norm. Getting an Ivy League degree? It feels normal. A twelve year old in college? I can believe it. Going to class with a Venezuelan oil prince? Ha! Been there, done that, and bought the t-shirt. (It read, "Stop sitting in my favorite seat.") Talking to NBA stars? So last week. International superstars? You tell me yours, and I'll tell you mine.
The effect that has on writing? Well, my characters have a tendency to be out of this world to others----and that's with me consciously turning it down a few notches. After all, why can't Asher be a 25-years-old millionaire if dropout Richard Branson became a self-made millionaire at 23 (and has since made billions)? Why can't Lucy be a former foster child, who volunteers in third world countries before attending an Ivy League school? In fact, I've seen similar cases three times over.
There are people around us that live lives beyond our realm of belief, but that's just it------belief is a realm. It is molded to an individual rather than reality, and it is shaped by your own experiences and holds little value in validity itself. I can't wait for you to experience some of the things I have, and I can't wait to experience some of the things you have. But until then? I will suspend my disbelief.
That's just my opinion, and in terms of the longevity of my career, it holds little weight in comparison to everyone else's. So, I'd like to know what you think about this. What do you consider to be realistic? What do you consider to be too much? Do extraordinary elements in stories bother you? Comment below!