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May 07 2013

Readers Hate Realism in Fiction

pagesOne thing I’ve learned after writing over a dozen stories is … readers despise reality or anything that reminds them how life really is. Yet, they want to feel like everything that happens in a story is true to life. A contradiction? Not necessarily.

Readers like to suspend disbelief in certain situations and genres like in Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Paranormal fiction. I mean, we all know were-creatures and fairies don’t exist. But if the writer has done her job and created rules for her world, as long as her characters follow the rules, the readers have no issues.

It’s with things like characters, their motives, their desires, struggles and actual characteristics that need to feel … real.

 

Likable Characters, Redeemable Characteristics

Readers think they want realistic, but what they really want is happily ever afters, scorching hot men, talented and successful characters, nice guys or bad boys with redeemable qualities, and characters that do not possess any unfavorable qualities … in other words, people who don’t really exist.

It irks readers when you give them whinny, lying, foul-mouthed, bitchy, odd, arrogant, lazy, two-faced, characters because the point in reading, for many, is to escape those kinds of people and situations.

But if you want to truly be realistic, these are the types of people we live with, work with, associate with, and encounter every day, even when we look in the mirror. No wonder we don’t want to deal with them in Fiction Land.

True realistic characters in fiction, the characters we deal with on a day-to-day basis, can warrant the author unfavorable reviews, can cost the author potential readers, and result in low sales. Read reviews. Almost every reviewer mentions what they felt about the characters. It’s that big a deal.

I’ve read that a character should reflect the reader. I disagree. Readers want to be the character in a sense of relating to the character and their struggles and then experiencing that happy ending. Readers do not want the character to be a reflection of themselves and their unflattering traits. That’s too realistic for comfort in most cases. Those are the characters we don’t relate to, the ones we don’t like, the ones who are forgettable, etc.

 

Fairytales and Happily Ever Afters

Essentially, we like fairytales. The princess always gets the prince at the end. No main character dies or suffers too long or too much, not without finally getting what they were striving for throughout their entire journey. Bad people get what they deserve. Good people get what they deserve. By the end of the book, life is grand!

This is apparently what helps makes good fiction. It’s very formulaic, believe it or not. We authors are all telling the exact same story just with different characters, situations and delivery.

 

The Fiction Formula and what it says about Human Beings

Every genre has a set of rules that the writer must adhere to. In the Romance genre, some of the rules are:

  1. Happily ever after or happily for now. This is an absolute must! This is what readers expect out of the genre.
  2. A physically, mentally or emotionally attractive main character. Yes, they can have issues and physical flaws (have a limp, a scar, swear too much, etc.), but they have to possess a trait that makes them very attractive, unique or engaging as well.
  3. They have to have good intentions. No matter what, deep inside they are good people.

Readers aren’t interested in characters who wakes up to have it all, unless they lose it all and prove that they deserved it in the first place, or if they sacrifice it all for a greater good. Characters have to struggle, otherwise their tale is boring. They can’t just get everything they want, they have to work for it. They just can’t have anyone they want either, they have to work for that too. Everyone gets their just desserts by the end.

This is the rule of fiction.

Says a lot about how we feel about ourselves and others, right? Haven’t you noticed that we tend to be envious of those who seem to have it all and acquire it without much effort? We feel that way because we compare ourselves to them. We tend to despise people who seem not to work as hard, or suffer as much as we do, but seem to have more than us and are happier. We hate these types of characters too. That’s why a great character in fiction has to suffer like no other, inside and out before they can have their happy ending.

When the characters don’t suffer enough, you leave readers unsatisfied.

 

How Fiction Differs from Real Life

Well, in the real world:

  1. Good people often have crappy things happen to them.
  2. Bad people don’t always get punished.
  3. And most of the time, we never have all our wishes come true or …
  4. End up with the dangerously scorching hot hunk at the end of our suffering.
  5. Many times, there is no end to our sufferings.
  6. We don’t have perfect relationships. We don’t have funny, selfless and spunky friends, neighbors, relatives, pets, bosses, etc.
  7. We don’t have great jobs.
  8. We’re weak, fat, miserable, and insecure.
  9. Sometimes, life just sucks!

So it’s not that readers despise reality or anything that reminds them how life really is. It’s that, readers despise reality or anything that reminds them how “sucky” life really is.

Keep that in mind when creating fictional characters.

 

What did you think of this post? Speak your mind in the comments below.

About the author

Leslie Lee Sanders

Leslie is a publishing Industry blogger, freelance writer and an author of over a dozen erotic romance & thriller titles. She self-published over two dozen works of fiction since 2004. Her blog was a finalist in the first annual Goodreads Independent Book Blogger Awards in 2012, and her story Benefits of Sharing is a finalist for the 2013 EPIC Award in the short story category. Her work has been included in the following Writer’s Market books: 2016 & 2017 Writer’s Market, 2016 & 2017 Novel and Short Story Writer’s Market, and the 2014 & 2015 editions of Guide to Self-Publishing. As well as online blogs like Be a Freelance Blogger. She resides in Arizona with her husband and 3 daughters.

2 comments

1 ping

  1. Piper Anderson

    I love this post. Your take on reader expectations for characters is right on point.

    1. Leslie Lee Sanders

      Thanks, Piper! Sometimes reality bites, huh? :)
      Leslie Lee Sanders recently posted…How to Be a Great Guest Blogger

  1. Master the Element of Surprise (What I Learned Writing Darkness Eternal: Refuge Inc.) - Leslie Lee Sanders

    […] if you do it right by fitting it within your story’s world and rules. However, I caution about providing too much realism in fiction, since most readers tend to read to escape reality. However, making your twists believable […]

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