Sunday, July 31, 2011

Bookie Brunch: Fantasy vs. Realism

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Founder: Sasha Soren (Random Magic)
Come join the discussion!
*Every Sunday*

Next week’s host: Story Wings (@StoryWings)
This week’s discussion is open through: July 31 - August 3

Your host this week:
Her guests this week:
Lorren at The Story Girl (Twitter: N/A)

The question under discussion: 
(suggested by your host)

People often tackle the issue of characters or plot being unrealistic or not possible in real life. Are you on
the-book-must-be-believable/realistic side or not? Why or why not?

Related topics to consider:
Do you prefer books with fantasy elements or books which stick to the world we know? Do you think it is important that contemporary literature remains true to life or do you welcome deviations from what would normally happen?


Christina, having Tazo passion tea lemonade, says:


Jodie, taking a sip of banana milkshake, says:

This is a tough question because l think it depends on a few things :

1 - My Mood : Sometimes l could literally read anything and it can be quite unrealistic but l still love it and other times any little thing which doesn't seem real can put me off a book. For example, l recently read The Iron King which l enjoyed but l did feel if l would have read it at the wrong time l probably wouldn't have enjoyed it as much or at all. It totally depends!

2 - How It's Written - I think if the unrealistic side of the book is put across with realistic things then the parts which are unrealistic can become more realistic. For example if the plot of the book is very 'far fetched' but has strong characters alongside then plot then the characters can make everything feel much more real.

3 - A Mix - This kinda goes alongside the 'My Mood' category. I like both fantasy and also 'down to earth' books and if l read too much of one then l kinda get bored and fed up of it. I like to mainly read books which have a little bit of fantasy mixed with normal YA but sometimes l can read books where you really have to open up your mind to believe what your reading but l have to be in the right mood for this and not have read too many books like this recently. 

Overall l enjoy both sort of books and wouldn't be without them. The world would be rather boring if everything was like how it is now with nothing new from what we know. I like to be able to be taken into a new world where the author has used their imagination. But like l said, l like to limit myself to these sort of books and also read 'normal' books.


Sarah, sipping on a caramel iced cappuccino and enjoying a glazed donut with chocolate icing, says:

I don't think necessarily that books or plots need to be realistic. I love fantasy, sci-fi, and anything with a magical (or paranormal) twist to it. I can accept pretty much anything that happens along those lines because it's instantly explained by "Hey, it's magic." (Although trying to convince people that vampires sparkle is stretching it a little, but who am I to argue with an author's imagination?)

I DO think that characters need to be realistic. There are some books that I've heard such great things about, but I just find the main character to fake to concentrate. Besides the characters needing to be realistic, they need to behave realistically. I can totally accept magical happenings, paranormal creatures, and anything along those fantasy lines. I cannot accept when characters make decisions that I don't think are believable or realistic. A well-fleshed out character has a distinct personality about them - we as readers come to feel that we know a well-written character pretty well. So when they do something that seems to go completely against their nature and is in conflict with what we already know about them, it bugs me. Big time.

All that being said, I completely embrace the fantasy genre, and I welcome deviations from the "real world". It's interesting, imaginative, and there's SO much to explore and create once you've put magic into the equation. Anything can happen, and that's really exciting. Plus, I see a lot of the real world every day - we see it every time we take a walk, watch the news, go to work or school. I think that fantasy lets us imagine things differently - it gets our creative juices flowing, opens our minds to other possibilities, and allows us to escape the real world for a little while.


Lorren, taking a sip of double-strength herbal peach iced tea with a tiny bit of sugar, says:

I think for me, the importance of believability depends on which part of the story we are talking about. I love magical realism, where we are dealing with our present-day world but things behave in a magical or whimsical way. I love a hint of fantasy in a contemporary book. I also have always enjoyed fantasy and science fiction, although I read much less of it than I did in high school. However, if the characters are behaving in a way that is unrealistic, I am bothered, whether it occurs in a more realistic book or a fantasy book. I'm not talking about irrational behavior or quirkiness in a character - I think that might be much more true to life than a "normal" character. What bothers me is when characters don't act human (unless, of course, they aren't human, which is a completely different set of rules) or when events play out in a way that makes the story seem fake. I think this can happen in "realistic" or "fantasy" fiction.


Your host, Pepca, sipping sweet green tea with a splash of milk, says:

I am annoyed when someone complains that they do not like a book because it is not realistic. People, it is called fiction. It is supposed to differ from real life. I have enough reality around me all the time. I read to escape the reality for a while. Therefore, I like new and unexpected things in books. Fantasy and paranormal fiction is among my favourite genres. I am totally for the unrealistic side.

That being said, I do think a book must be believable within its own paradigm. Its setting, plot and characters have to be consistent with one another. The characters and the plot have to correspond to the rules by which the world set in a particular book operates. If trolls turn to stone in the sunlight, then there cannot be any trolls walking around during the day, right? Right.

The same goes for contemporary fiction. I like it when things turn out differently than expected, but they have to be likely to happen. I do not like too farfetched circumstances, such as a poor girl exploited as a mafia prostitute getting away with loads of dirty money, killing a few mobsters, and living happily every after. This kind of outcome is not much plausible. Such impossible contradictions to reality are not to my liking.

On the whole, I enjoy novelties and surprises and discovering new worlds entwined with fantasy and paranormal, provided that they function accordingly to their concept.


You’re invited! Visitors: Please share your thoughts on the topic in the comments section, so they can be included in the discussion. This is an active discussion through Wednesday, so feel free to stop by again later on.

Bookie Brunch is a weekly meet-up, held every Sunday, where book bloggers can have a cup of tea and chat about a particular bookie question of interest. The discussion is open from Sunday through Wednesday, and you’re welcome to drop by any time to add your opinion or read what other people have to say. This discussion is open as well to general readers or bloggers in a different field, authors, publishers and publicists.

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What do you think? Please feel free to join the discussion on this week’s question by commenting below.


  1. I agree with the majority: I will suspend belief for plot and settings, but I want my characters to think and act realistically. Realistic meaning in character, and in a way that seems true.

  2. I'm all in for Fantasy. I'm already leaving here so why more realism?
    But that doesn't mean that i want the book to forget everything right? If the characters (mostly) don't remind us things we see around in they way they act, we can't connect with the story either. I believe a small connection between fantasy and realism always needs to exist.

  3. @ Sarah: I can see what you mean by characters behaving realistically, especially when the plot and setting are taken into consideration - all of it has to fit together to be believable.

    @ Yiota: I guess we DO need something familiar to connect to a book and characters are the most probable element in this aspect.

  4. I like realistic books, but I read stories as a form of escapism most of the time, which is why I read a lot of fantasy. With steampunk and paranormal especially, I am able to dream of a world more exciting and magical than my own and yet close enough that I can truly picture it. :)

  5. Great discussion question! I think I'm with others who say that characters need to behave realistically. I read a lot of fantasy/science fiction, etc., and as long as the plot and characters behave within the world and rules that the author has created, I can believe in just about anything. However, I find it distracting (and annoying) when a character is progressing along, and then suddenly starts acting completely differently, saying or doing things that don't make sense. The only time I can go along with that is if the character has been possessed -- after all, that would explain someone acting not like themselves.

    When a story is done well, and the characters are written well, and it all comes together, any story can be believable if you let it. :)

  6. @ Lieder Madchen: It is the same with me - I like to escape the reality, but I have to be able to picture the new worlds:)

    @ Jo: Certainly, characters have to behave appropriately to the rules the author creates - it is not enjoyable when their action do not make sense.
    You put it so well: "When a story is done well, and the characters are written well, and it all comes together, any story can be believable if you let it." Exactly!:)

  7. I'm liked to say that as long as characters are believable, I can handle any book. I love fantasy, sci-fi and paranormal, so things that happen don't have to be realistic, they just have to make sense to the plot and world I am reading about.

  8. drinking peet's french roast coffee with lots of milk for the creamy taste.
    *taking a sip*
    ahhhh, ok, when it comes to the question at hand i will say no preference. if the characters are likable (well at least one of them) and the story flows well, then i'll believe it. yes, i'm one of those who hear bells tinkling now and then ;-D

  9. I agree with a lot of what everyone else is saying. I'm good with crazy-out-there plots and settings, so long as the characters are believable. If they aren't, the book is tainted in my eyes and I don't like it as much.

    For ex, I didn't think I'd like UNEARTHLY by Cynthia Hand, but the characterization is so strong that I want to know more about everyone, even secondary characters. There was another book I read recently (I won't say which, but it was adult, not YA) where I disliked the MC *so much* and couldn't connect with her, so I really didn't like that book!

  10. In general, I prefer realism to fantasy, or rather, I read more realism. But in recent years, I've developed a passion for fantasy books, and I don't mind them one bit. Fiction needs to evolve constantly and tackle all kinds of worlds, whether these worlds actually exist or not. To me, what's important is a plot that's not confusing and makes sense within its setting, and engaging, well-rounded characters. A realistic story can make no sense at all, and a fantasy story can make perfect sense. It's all about how stories are delivered.

  11. @ vvb32 reads: definitely, there must be at least one likable character and I'll go for anything:)

    @ A backwards Story: Characterization IS the key element which either makes us connect of the book or not. I had the same experience with other books - kept reading because of the characters.

    @ Chrystal & @ Irena: By all means, it is all about a book making sense as a whole.

  12. I agree with Pepca. I for one like a little unrealistic aspects in my fiction. Isn't life realistic enough as it is? Fiction is an escape from real life so bring on the fantastical! Great brunch this week. =O)

  13. Who are these people and why are they jumping on innocent books???
    (sorry couldnt resist)
    Honestly though it depends on what books are being referred to. For example if it's Fantasy or Sci-fi, then of course there's a great chance that the characters, etc. are going to be a bit unrealistic.
    Of course there are also regular old non fantasy just plain fiction novels. These are expected to follow the rules of our currant universe,etc. For example you wouldn't have a two year old running a company.
    I've read some where it seems very unbelievable for certain circumstances to have happened all at once to the main character. But I have two opinions on this.
    1-sometimes truth IS stranger than fiction. So as long as it isn't something that is completely impossible, and it is mearly impropable then it's ok.
    2-if the story is well written and the characters are well written than I'm probably not going to notice a few to many "coincidences" that might otherwise appear unrealistic.

  14. Pepca, I totally agree that it's kind of annoying when people complain that a book isn't realistic - in fiction, kind of anything goes, right? It especially bothers me when people talk about historical novels not being really historical accurate - again, it's fiction! If you want something historically accurate, read some non-fiction.

  15. Thanks, Michelle. "Isn't life realistic enough as it is?" - That is exactly what I think.

    AimeeKay, truth really often is stranger than fiction. I too gladly overlook some strange coincidences for the sake of a good story and compelling characters.

    Sarah, I am the same where historical fiction is concerned - I read it because historical non-fiction bores me, but reading historical fiction with its appeal often makes me go and check the facts after reading. You are absolutely right - whoever wants dry historical accuracy can read non-fiction.

  16. I agree with you Pepca...the key thing is that you have to believe it in its paradigm. A contemporary fiction book could be laughably fake while a high fantasy novel could seem so real, you're looking up in the sky waiting for a dragon to swoop down. That's what makes the Harry Potter novels so great - you forget that Hogwarts doesn't actually exist.

  17. Great question! I do appreciate novels that have realistic characters definitely, however, if they all seemed realistic, then what would be unique about the characters? SO I would have to say that I'm torn between having realistic characters, or characters that are completely out there.. Either way, if the story is good, and I can connect with the characters in some way, then I'm a happy camper :)


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