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Magic Isn't Real, So Why Does it Feel Realistic?

I shared a blog post to my Facebook writer’s group. In this blog I said, “And in all things, writing must be realistic.”

A fellow writer commented, “No, it mustn't! Real life is boring and mostly doesn't happen as we want it to. The hero saving the day at the last second isn’t realistic, but that’s what we write. The couple falling in love despite everything trying to keep them apart isn’t realistic, but we write it. I write happy endings. Is that realistic? No. Will that stop me writing them? Absolutely not! Long live unrealistic writing!”

It then occurred to me that, though I know what realistic writing is, there are those who do not. This blog post is a more detailed explanation than I gave my fellow writer.

Fellow Writer is right. We write unrealistic things. Magic is not real. Coming back to life from the dead is not real. Dragons, fairies, mermaids, are not real. Yet we write about them, and they are realistic. How so? I’ll couple this with another thought I shared on social media today:

It's a paradox us writers know how to bend...

...and that is being realistic in unrealistic situations. We do this by creating a bubble. The bubble is made up of genre and setting. What is setting? Setting is the backdrop against which the characters act out the events. A story with a poorly-portrayed setting is like a play on a bare stage. You have character and plot (the important parts) but no sense of place. And within this bubble we then insert our plot and characters.

What you’ve just done is created your own reality. It’s not real, but your characters function within that reality as if it’s real to them. REAL TO THE CHARACTERS, because if it’s real for the characters, it’s real for the reader. That’s how we create realism in fiction.

Two people falling in love despite the odds is unrealistic, but the world the characters function on inside the bubble you created has a foundation that makes it believable. Now, if a unicorn flies out of the sky and carries these two people to Candyland, THAT is not realistic according to the rules you set forth in your bubble. You did not include unicorns when you were constructing your bubble.

IF YOU SKIMMED… If your characters believe it to be real, your readers will to. This is how we create realism in fiction.

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