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Keeping It Real!

Regardless of how fictitious or far-fetched your story may be, adding in some realistic elements will only make it better. In this article, I will talk about the value of weaving reality into your fiction.

Most of the best fiction books that were ever written and a large majority of the great movies of our time include elements of reality, either in relationships, settings, or plausibility. This even applies to outlandish tales like Maze Runner, Hunger Games, or even The Walking Dead.

Why? Because we can imagine a world where things have gone wrong. If the story is told well and there is some truth in the fiction, then we can relate.

Even if you are writing about giant bugs taking over the world or killer tomatoes decimating a city, you can add in some realistic details that will pull your readers into your story. One way to accomplish this is through your characters.

If your story is beyond belief, your characters can still evoke empathy and concern through being realistic and relatable. Take E.T. For example. While it is highly unlikely that a candy-loving alien is going to show up in your shed, the relationship that developed between the boy and the alien seemed very real. It is that element of reality that made the movie so special.

How do you accomplish something like that in your own writing? Put yourself in the shoes of your character and ask yourself what you would really do if you were in their place. Trying to protect, hide, and care for an alien in distress is something that any child might actually do under the circumstances. The same applies to adult characters. If they react in a realistic way to an unrealistic situation, then the story becomes more believable.

Another method of adding in a bit of reality is how you manage your settings. If your story takes place in Chicago, then you’ve got to mention deep-dish pizza or Chicago-style hot dogs. If it takes place in Manhattan, then you should at least include some reference to Times Square or Central Park. Wherever your setting, you should include some details that bring it to life for the reader.

Professions are yet another way you can add a bit of reality to your fiction. If your story centers around an outbreak and a virologist is one of your main characters, portray how an actual virologist would react to your extraordinary circumstances. Likewise, if you are writing about an astronaut’s experience in deep space travel, elaborate on their training and expectations before showing the harsh impact of reality.

The goal with adding in a bit of reality is to get your readers to relate by thinking: “I’ve been there…” or “I remember that…” or “That’s exactly what I would have done….” If you can create that connection, then the fact that your story is about massive dill pickles that come out of the sewers to eat people will be more palatable.

On a more serious note, here are a few suggestions on how to keep your fiction real:

Whenever possible, write about what you know.

No one can write legal thrillers as well as someone who has been a lawyer for most of their life. No one can write about San Francisco as well as someone who has lived in San Francisco since childhood. Whenever you have the chance, use your personal experience to add realism to your stories.

Do your research!

Research is the most powerful tool for writing. Yes, it takes time, but it is well worth the effort. Imagine how quickly an author would lose readers if they described the Colosseum as being a tall, rectangular building. That’s oversimplifying, but you get my point. Whether you are writing about a setting, a profession, or a relationship, do your research and make it realistic.

When in doubt, ask for help.

If you are unsure, go to the experts. With social media and internet forums, it is not that difficult to find someone in the know who would be willing to consult. If I’m writing about a motorcycle club, I want to get the input of a biker before I publish. If I’m writing about a city that I never lived in, then I want feedback from someone who actually lives there.

Base your fiction on a foundation of science.

It’s almost impossible to come up with an idea that some organization or another hasn’t already investigated. From cloning to artificial intelligence to space travel to paranormal activity, there are legitimate groups out there who have researched the issues. Most provide reports or articles on their studies. Refer to these as you write to create greater depth and to give your stories realistic substance even when the content is unbelievable.

Don’t be afraid of lawsuits.

A lot of authors believe that if they reference actual businesses, songs, or people, they will wind up facing a lawsuit. In a future article, I will go into depth on this topic. For the purposes of this article, I will keep it simple. Before I do that though, let me add a few disclaimers.

First of all, I’m not assuring that you won’t be sued, I’m just suggesting that it is highly unlikely that you will unless you either cross the line or happen to be a bestselling author with a massive bank account.

Secondly, let me outline what you DON’T want to do. There are basically four ways to get yourself into trouble when mentioning brands: trademark infringement, trademark dilution, trademark tarnishment, and defamation. For example, it is fine to mention that your protagonist stopped at McDonald’s for lunch, but it is not okay to say that she got food poising as a result.

Third, when it comes to copyrighted material like songs, you have to be careful. Song titles are not copyrighted, so you could for example mention that your protagonist loves Stairway to Heaven. “Fair use” laws allow you to reference a few lyrics, but including too many might be considered a violation of the copyright.

Okay, back to my point. Regardless of what you write, it is highly unlikely that you will be sued. Just use a bit of common sense. If one of your characters is a huge fan of Elvis, don’t be afraid to include that fact. If Taco Bell is your protagonist’s fast-food chain of choice, you can mention that without worry. Those realistic and relatable details will add depth and credibility to your story.

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One Comment

  • John hazen

    It’s so true that the writer has to introduce realistic elements to keep the reader’s interest. The story can’t be so far-fetched that you lose them.

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