I have a fantasy story I'm writing which takes place in the medieval period. Let's take the hero (the protagonist) as a starting point of example.

The hero born and lives in a peasant village. The midwife that assisted in his birth is well known in the village he lives and neighbor villages. His mother died on his birth. In most stories, the fact that he would need a wet nurse to be able to live is simply ignored. But not this hero. He really had a wet nurse, and she appears in a few scenes. But she's not a random woman, she's his since-childhood friend's mother. The hero and his mother are well known by most of his continent. His mother because she had a very special characteristic very esteemed by the world's people, and the hero inherited it. A specific character was a big fan, since childhood, of the hero's mother and such character also knows the hero. The villain is the hero's father cousin and he also has that special characteristic, because they are part of the same genealogical tree.

So, with this brief summary of some of the characteristics, the story "reminds" that people are born, reproduce, die, newly-born humans are dependent, everyone has or had parents, everyone has a genealogy, and everything has a beginning, including people's life. But it's a very different take from the other stories, that most seem to just ignore all that and just tells something like:

— Hey, reader/viewer/player! Meet the hero.
— Hi, hero!
— This hero will go into a journey to reach and accomplish a goal.
— Well, OK...
— And these are people he never knew that exist but that will in someway be important for the story (or maybe not), and in the end they all will be friends for all life.
— That is one moving story!
— Let's see how he goes through it!
— Yay!

OK, the Law of Conservation of Detail plays some roles here, but is it me that flesh things out "too much", or is that the other stories are much more scoped and "to the point"? Or is it because the public don't want realism or "over-fleshing out", they just want a story, so all realism has to be yanked from the story and just leave the "good parts"? For me, the more deep, fleshed out and realistic are the characters, world, etc., the better, even in a fantasy setting. But is there a moment when telling a character's life and world with realism is a bad idea and ignoring some aspects is a better option?

  • What is the Law of Conservation of Detail? Jan 17, 2017 at 20:10

2 Answers 2


When realistically portraying the characters' life is a bad thing?

Ignoring the context for now, I'd say the answer is: when the writer is portraying every day life for its sake rather than to advance the story.

Personally, I prefer stories (whatever the genre) where every day life (contemporary or not) comes into play. It's a great way to give a taste of the times, cultures and the personality of your characters. Sometimes, though, the writer can become engrossed in those little things, especially when accidentally showing off all the research they've made for the historical novel or all the cool stuff they invented for their fantasy world.

To focus on real life details for its sake can ruin the story; to use those details to flesh out the story's characters should help to create compelling characters and worlds.

...it's a very different take from the other stories, that most seem to just ignore all that...

The examples you give are mostly 'coming of age' stories, where the protagonist is thrown out of their childhood home and forced to find themselves while completing a quest. Usually elsewhere. Therefore, the protagonist puts the past behind them and focuses on the future.

Personally, 'coming of age' while going on a quest is not my cup of tea. I prefer to see protagonists 'come of age' by learning to see their childhood world through more mature, wiser eyes.

In your story, it seems to me, the 'quest' (although it sounds more like a challenge than a true quest) is set within that childhood world and requires the protagonist to see the people he knows and loves (or hates) with different eyes in order to become a grown man.

Therefore, using everyday activities in order to bring these characters and their village to life seems to be essential to create a compelling read.

the story "reminds" that people are born, reproduce, die, newly-born humans are dependent, everyone has or had parents, everyone has a genealogy, and everything has a beginning, including people's life.

To me, "realistically portraying the characters' lives" means portraying every day activities and common (or uncommon) relationships. If your concern lies with creating a realistic village where everyone knows eachother and their lives and their family's lives... well, it wouldn't feel like a true village if you didn't somehow give that idea.

If your concern lies with how much to write about it, my advice is to not use info-dumps but rather create the feel of a place where everyone knows everyone by having people commonly refer to family connections or, for example, to that woman who's the second cousin of your great-aunt (the one that married the butcher in the neighbouring village) and whose husband has a white mule which he bought from your neighbour's son. It makes no difference who those people are, but anyone who lives in a small town will immediatelly know what type of place this is. A place where you cannot forget all the little bonds, whether of love, blood, or hate.


Realism is not a bad thing. It is necessary for creating believable characters, settings and situations. It is the level and the amount of detail you choose to display which can work for your story or against it; however, there is no recipe for how many words per chapter one can safely spend describing things.

Your princess might be precious as a dainty flower, but if she has too much mead during royal dinner, she will end up throwing up in a privy, likely assisted by her body maid. The question is whether you choose to show it, mention it, or ignore it, and the choice is yours and yours only.

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