Realism in Fiction

Tanto Blade - 50mm, 1/60, f/8

Tanto Blade – 50mm, 1/60, f/8

I went to a local writers’ group meeting. The idea was, you bring copies of a section of your writing, read for the group, and they give feedback either verbally or in the form of notes written on their copy, which they handed back to you.  I think this is helpful because other writers can spot problems you might have missed.

My novel is based on history, so one would expect it to be true to the time and fairly realistic. It’s not fantasy or science fiction.  In the section I read, a ten-year-old boy makes an incredible shot with an arrow, trying to save his mother’s life.  A couple of men in the group thought this was far fetched, and that a boy that young could not possibly pull the bow with that much force and accuracy.  In a group like this, if you defend every criticism, people will stop giving you feedback.  So the best thing is to listen and nod, or ask clarifying questions to make sure you understand their meaning.  So that’s what I did.

But here’s the problem:  I studied this period in Japanese history for three years while writing the book. It was a time when people like Tokugawa Ieyasu and Toyotomi Hideyoshi led cavalry charges into battle at fourteen years of age. I have also trained for years in Japanese, as well as other, martial arts.  I have seen many students make incredible transformations from being clumsy and slow, to confident and precise with their technique.  But these are people who come to class twice a week for an hour or two.

In 1600’s Japan, little boys didn’t have Xboxes or Playstations.  They had wooden swords.  So if we lazy Americans can improve as much as I’ve seen people build skill in a few months of 3 or 4 hours a week, what if you had no modern media distractions and put in 20 hours of hard, focused practice per week… for years?  Japanese people had a capacity to focus on one thing until they perfected it that our short attention spans simply can’t comprehend.

However, my average reader will probably not be aware of all this.  Does that mean I change the story to be more “plausible”?  My goal in writing the story is to entertain and educate, but it is fiction, so I don’t know how important it is that readers think what they are reading is possible in the real world.  I have read some pretty ridiculous things in novels, but I still enjoyed the story. Hey, maybe there’s something I don’t understand myself, right?  My inclination is to focus on things like the note someone wrote “watch your adverbs” (because there was a section with too many of them ending in “ly”), and not worry about the fact that most readers will not have the same understanding I do from my studies.


2 thoughts on “Realism in Fiction

  1. I think part of reading is discovering. Like in scifi, fantasy or historical novels, the world and culture is foreign, so you don’t have to worry about that. The thing that has to be absolutely relatable is the emotions, and that happens within the characters. And that’s the real challenge.

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