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Introduction

I said a reader in the title. I don't know if I can answer this myself, as I'm not the kind of person who hates on something for not being good. I like virtually everything, and don't care if it's not realistic. I know for a fact that all readers won't be like me.

Background

Normally, novels have a level of realism inside them. For example, contemporary fiction is well, contemporary, and so is crime, that's often quite real. Fantasy is often real to a degree - for example, there are peasants and lords, injustice in the realm. Sci-fi is also real to a degree, some parts believable and could actually be possible.

I just really like wandering minstrels, pretty princesses, valiant knights, strange dragons and beasts that the king and queen can slay together. I can safely say that, as a hardcore fantasy reader, I have never read a fantasy book where there are wandering minstrels, plenty of princesses and princes, valiant knights that go on treasure quests for the king, queens that defend the city, etc.

Obviously, I have took note of this and made my novel so it is not just wandering minstrels, valiant knights, and instead has plenty of peasants and injustice. I think that even for fantasy, those ideas are too unreal for a reader to like them. So...

Question

How feasible and real does any book have to be for readers to enjoy it? Does a reader care if an author goes too far with the strange, wandering minstrels, and whatever else I said? Would it matter if I made the whole thing like what I described?

Thanks!


Note: I acknowledge that stack exchange doesn't like hypothetical questions. I am not actually writing this, instead I am writing something more realistic and plausible (even for fantasy). This is more a question of if I write down what I dream about every night, what would happen?

  • Is there a bad edit in this sentence somewhere? "I have never read a fantasy book where there are wandering minstrels, plenty of princesses and princes, valiant knights that go on treasure quests for the king, queens that defend the city, etc." because that kinda sums up fantasy books. – Lauren Ipsum Nov 11 '16 at 21:00
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    Any level of fantasy can be successful as long as the audience buys into your universe and commits a Willing Suspension of Disbelief (TVTropes). – Cyberson Nov 11 '16 at 21:40
  • @LaurenIpsum that was the first thing that came to my mind. All the things listed are classic elements of the genre (Daniel, what kind of fantasy books are you reading?), which, by the way, does not make them unrealistic—with the exception of magical beasts and races such as elves and dwarfs—traveling minstrels did exist in real world (and now evolved into touring bands), there were plenty of princes and princesses, and some of them were prettier than the others… – Lew Nov 12 '16 at 1:30
  • I'd really, really like you to tell me some fantasy books with a mixture of those cool things in then @LaurenIpsum – Daniel Cann Nov 12 '16 at 4:48
  • I made suggestions in my answer: Mercedes Lackey (anything to do with Valedmar; she has like 50 books set in that universe) and David & Leigh Eddings (two pentologies plus two prequels). That's just off the top of my head. What fantasy books are you reading that don't have those elements? That's what I'm not getting. – Lauren Ipsum Nov 12 '16 at 11:45
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This is a pretty complicated question, no matter how realistic your writing is you'll have people who can find faults and people who think you should have been more adventurous. It's probably worth accepting that from the get-go if it's going to bother you.

I'd say focus more on being consistent in your world-building than realistic. If you're creating an entirely 'unrealistic' world, you have to establish what the rules of this world are for your readers and stick to them. For Example, if it's established that knights being valiant is the norm in your world, it'd confuse readers if all the knights in your story were portrayed as being horrible people.

As for what you've suggested as being unrealistic "having peasants and injustice" I wouldn't say that's unrealistic at all, injustice adds conflict which is what readers expect and is definitely more realistic than a world where everyone's jolly and nothing ever goes wrong. As for the "peasants" if there's anysort of class hiarchy in your story, there's bound to be people at the lowest level, what I'd be careful of is only having your poorer characters portrayed as transgressing laws and your kings, queens and knights etc, being the keepers of justice.

At the end of the day writing is about pushing boundaries, if you don't think your story fits in with other fantasy works then that could be a good thing.

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    Internal consistency can't be stressed enough. Even if it is never explained to the reader, the author MUST KNOW the rules of their universe and only break them with extreme caution. – Jason K Dec 6 '16 at 20:17
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The amount of realism in your book is set up by you as the writer. It's up to the individual reader to decide if this is the reader's particular cup of tea.

Some fantasy books are so stiff with clichés (valiant knights, pretty princesses, etc.) that they'll fall over in a brisk wind; some like to subvert them.

Mercedes Lackey does a lot of both in her Velgarth/Valedmar series — there are pretty princesses, but most of them are also damned handy with a sword, powerful mages, or both. There are valiant knights and jerk knights, good and bad kings, and justice for peasants and lords alike. David & Leigh Eddings explored these tropes in the Belgariad and Malloreon by going past them: for example, Mandorallen, the typical Myghtyest Knyght on Lyfe, is also a well-rounded and flawed character with a backstory and a love life and personality beyond that.

Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams wrote merry absurdities; you don't go in expecting realism. Tolkien deliberately was as serious as he could be in writing fantasy because he was trying to create a kind of "modern mythology" for Britain.

If you're worried that life in the real setting of High Fantasy (the English Middle Ages) was nasty, brutish, and short for most people and you think your audience would object to that truth, I should point out that there's an audience for that kind of story too — Bernard Cornwell did a set of historical novels on the real King Arthur, plus others set around that time period, so somebody is reading this stuff.

The upshot is this: write the story the way you think it should be written. Let your potential reader know how realistic you're planning to be in the blurb on the back or in the first few pages, and then your readers can decide if they want to go on the journey with you. There's no "correct" amount of realism for any story, no matter what the setting.

  • 'Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams wrote merry absurdities; you don't go in expecting realism' Mmmm, that might depend on how you define realism. Both of those writers created 'unreal situations' in which the people behaved in utterly realistic and true to life ways. The settings may not have been real,. but the people (and that includes the dwarfs and the animated rocks) were. – Spagirl Nov 14 '16 at 16:12
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    @Spagirl I take your point to some extent. I think the OP is talking about realistic settings, however, more than realistic characters. – Lauren Ipsum Nov 14 '16 at 16:51
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Some people will only read books if they are gritty and realistic. Some people will only read books if they are about horses. Some people will only read books if they are about dragons. No book is written for the whole world. Every book is written for a specific audience or audiences with specific tastes. You have to write the book that works for your intended audience.

What matters is that your audience accepts the world you create as self consistent -- that it obeys its own rules. Tolkien wrote a marvelous essay called On Fairy Stories in which he described the author as creating a sub-created world. Fantasy is not about getting the reader to suspend their disbelief, but to believe in the reality of the sub-created world. We may disbelieve in rings of power and elves in our own world, but we are not suspending our disbelief when we enter middle earth. We simply believe in them as part of the sub-created world of middle earth. They key is not to break the spell. Pop the bubble of that sub-created world (by giving Aragorn a cell phone, for instance) and the whole sub-created world lies in ruins.

But I think it is also important to remember that the sub-created world is a bubble around a story. You don't have to answer questions about what elves do for a living or where orcs go on vacation. The story world does not have to make economic or geographical sense (the map of middle earth is geological nonsense, with its thin mountain ranges running in straight lines all over the place). The content of the bubble only has to make sense in story terms. If something nonsensical happens that affects the story, the bubble bursts. But outside of the logic of the story, things do not need to be explained or even explicable, as long as they all seem consistent with the nature of the sub-created world in which the story takes place.

If your story arc is about knights and minstrels and princesses then create a story world in which these characters live and which is self consistent. Don't introduce unhappy peasants and unjust rulers unless the story arc is about unhappy peasants and unjust rulers. They won't make your story more realistic, they will make your sub-created world less self-consistent, and therefore less believable.

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I would just like to add what Aristotle said regarding the realism. He said:

Probable impossibilities are to be preferred to improbable possibilities

He said that realism or the possibility something to happen is important but what is most important is the probability it to happen in a story. This means that you can write any kind of reality deviations as long as they are probable in the reality of the story. You can search more on this online.

  • Love the Aristotle quote! – Catalyst Dec 2 '16 at 13:51
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I'm new here and to writing fiction, but I'll still venture an opinion:

Readers grok fiction; they understand fictional premises like magic. But use it sparingly; a good story has to be plausible and internally self-consistent.

I think Lewis Carrol gave us a good way of gauging this. Six impossible things as an upper limit, probably fewer for those of us just getting our sea legs in fiction.

"Alice laughed: "There's no use trying," she said; "one can't believe impossible things." "I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast."

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Must it be realistic?

No, but you must keep a good explanation why things are the way they are especially if they don't fit in our day to day pattern.

For example: Take a walk in Khazad Dûm (aka Moria). It was build by Dwarfs somewhen back in time. Dwarfs are not the tallest, but still Khazad Dûm has some really really big caverns and hallways. Question: Why. When Khazad Dûm was build the mountains the dwarfs found some large caves and made them their home. Or, if you prefer a more Pratchettarian approach: The dwarfs of Khazad Dûm were afraid of low ceilings, because they always bumped their had at the doorways. These are good explanations for something that doesn't match the expected pattern. There won't be an explanation necessary why the houses in Bree are the size they are, because they're standard sized houses for humans.

BUT be careful. If your story focuses on something special, like your story is a medieval Tom Clancy story, then you'd have to be pretty precise on your descriptions, because the readers will expect a very detailed and consistent description of your weaponry. You won't be able to wield your 2 handed, 8 pound steel sword like a very lightweight Japanese katana

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