|No one would put book shelves in a cemetery. Cut it.|
Realism is allegedly the goal of fiction. It’s alleged exclusively by real people, which seems somewhere between a bias and bigotry to me.
Regardless, realism is cherished in fiction. We coddle F. Scott Fitzgerald for nailing a feeling, or a poet for putting a thought we’ve all had into verse. Meanwhile an implausible romance is shameful, someone walking in at a convenient time is contrived, and nearly every character is accused of being unrealistic. Realism is considered a requirement for good storytelling – except in a million different cases. Here are ten of them.
1. Characters have the same last name and no relation to each other. Happens millions of times every day in the real world; has happened, perhaps twice, in the history of fiction.
2. Coughing, sneezing and hiccupping for no reason. Someone in my family gets the hiccups at least once a week, and never because they’re nervous a dragon is nearby.
3. “Uhm, uh, you know, well, like, it’s just – you know what I mean.” These oral pauses allow real people to gather the best wording for their next point, although it’s a tiny minority of fictional characters who ever use them. I’m most acutely aware of this dissonance when I’m editing novels; I spend hours a day cutting every needless word, and become absolutely irate with everyone I meet who talks like an actual person.
4. Characters notice a conflict between each other, talk over their opinions honestly, figure out a simple compromise, and drop the issue. Half the editors I’ve met would chastise you for squandering conflict if you wrote sensible resolution.
5. A heart monitor flatlines because a node disconnected. This has not only happened to me, but is by far the most common cause of flatlining for every medical technician I’ve ever talked to. People whose business is to save lives make fun of your fiction about life and death scenarios.
6. The “good” political party wins and yet the “good” party members are never satisfied no matter what the new administration does. They become deeply jaded by what they identify as the failings of their leaders, seldom recognizing much of their disappointment stems from their own ignorance over what is plausible. Our real would actually be a great satire about idealism and phony pragmatism.
7. Cold wars. The U.S. and U.S.S.R. spent decades embroiled in one, and the closest they came to blows was psyching each other out over missile placement. You seldom see a Dark Lord who the rest of the world just refuses to trade with, and who fails so catastrophically to lead his giant tyranny that the capitalists have to sneak him loans.
8. The neighbors losing their shit the night after a Horror movie/novel when it turns out eighteen people have been stabbed to death and the mailman was actually a sadomasochistic zombie. I don’t know about you, but if somebody revs their motorcycle too loud my neighbors obsess about it for years. The closest fiction gets is in a sequel, years later (or one year later, on the anniversary), and then those nervous locals are just introduced for body count.
9. The superhero that just does the right thing because it’s right. A pragmatic idealist motivated by his or her own mind, not a personal tragedy or preposterously corrupted city. What’s funnier is our popular misconception that all superheroes are already like this. Actually, even Superman isn’t that anymore.
10. The serial killer who is impossible to catch because law enforcement is incredibly complicated bureaucratically and logistically, not because being crazy is a mental superpower.
That ought to be enough to get us started. Do any others come to mind?