When writing fiction, ensuring that your characters’ actions and motivations feel natural is key to telling a relatable story – or at least one that doesn’t have your readers shaking their heads in disbelief. We can only take so many plot contrivances before we lose the ability to take a narrative seriously. But does that mean everything in a story should unfold in a strictly realistic manner?
It can be a tricky balance to strike. Minimizing the required suspension of disbelief is a worthy goal, but it’s also important not to use realism as an excuse for bad storytelling. After all, real life isn’t often that interesting, and things not happening as they usually would is the gist of what makes a story worth telling. No one excitedly calls up a friend to explain how normal of a day she had.
The premise and certain major plot points of a story may not always be particularly realistic, but if they are in service to a theme – a powerful driving force in narrative by which reality is not bound – then that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. We can usually swallow a few unlikely coincidences for the sake of poetic meaning, especially when they can (and should) still be grounded by the details surrounding them and characters’ reactions to them. It’s also good to keep in mind that when people complain about unrealism, what they’re often actually harping on are stereotypes and clichés, ironically because they are, much like reality, regularly encountered. What they truly want to see is something fresh and different.
Internal consistency is imperative, and reality is a good base model for how events might unfold in a given scenario, but don’t let a singular pursuit of realism steer you away from weaving a cohesive narrative. If being unrealistic tells a better story, then tell the better story. We’re all just making stuff up, anyway. (>^-‘)>