Good realism is character realism

May 10, 2016

I’m a long-time critic of realism. You can have your gritty police procedurals and gunmetal gray military shooters—give me brightly colored explosions, friendly banter, and a fantastic world any day of the week. We get enough realism in reality. I don’t need it in my fiction.

But that only applies to realism in worldbuilding. There’s another realism that I’m very much in favor of.

When it comes to characters, realism is the key. Not in the things they do, or the way the speak, or the way they dress, or the vehicles they use, or the planet they’re on, or the species they are, or even if any of these variables apply to them at all—that’s worldbuilding again, and in that realism is overrated.

It’s in the way the characters act that realism is paramount. It’s in making them feel like real people, not plot tokens to be moved across a board. When a reader says that it’s not realistic that a character like this would act like that, it could be that they’re not grokking the character—or they could be right. Probably they’re right. We humans have a very fine-tuned sense of what makes someone a person, so if it feels off—if their actions feel unrealistic—that’s worth listening to.

I don’t have a specific example here. Probably I did when I first drafted this post, but I’ve forgotten it. Mostly I wanted to clarify my stated disinclination for quote unquote “realism.” Realism in setting is overrated. Realism in character is huge. I’ll focus on that.

As always, thank you for using my Amazon Affiliate link (info).

By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.

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