Saturday, June 6, 2015

Is realism a good ting?

from headdudebob on Flickr
My book Synthesis is a work of fiction. More particularly, it's science fiction. Not only is the story made up, but it has aliens, technology, and false history - things that don't exist and never did. But in every aspect of the story I tried to make it as realistic as possible. More importantly, I tried to make the characters real people. Not in the sense that they are modeled after actual, living people. But that they act and behave the way people really do. Therein lies my question: is realism a good thing?

Personally, I prefer realism in my science fiction. I know warp drives aren't possible yet, but they could be developed. Aliens might have visited our planet, and our government probably would want to cover that up and use any advanced technology they acquired for nefarious purposes. I want the basis for the story to be believable even if a little fantastical. When the science or plot get too far disconnected from reality (why do governments always use their best technology to turn teenagers into super-agent killing machines?) then it's harder for me to lose myself in that alternate world.

The same goes for people, but here's where I've run into difficulty. People are imperfect. They tend to be wrapped up in their own world and problems and don't see the big picture. They whine and complain, teenagers more than anyone. (at least, I know I whined a lot, complaining about all the things in life I didn't have control over). When people are taken out of their normal routine they generally flail for a bit before they can adjust, and they don't like it.

You see, my main character Emily whines a bit. She doesn't start out completely happy and satisfied with her life. When bad things happen she doesn't like it and lets the world know. She's passive. When things beyond her understanding start happening, she's lost and confused and relies upon others to take care of her. To use the parlance, she lacks agency. That's how I think most people are and what they would do.

At the same time, she does what's necessary to survive and tries to help others when she can (though she whines a bit while doing it). As the story progresses, so does Emily. She starts to figure things out. She tries to take control and make decisions for herself. She even risks her own life when she's given the chance to sit it out and let others do the work. Truth be told, she still complains a bit that life's unfair. But in the end, I find that willingness to be heroic while not feeling like a hero the essence of what her character arc is all about. If she got there sooner it wouldn't be as worthwhile a journey.

But I get feedback, especially from those who just read the first chapter, that Emily doesn't kick ass enough. She's not a Strong Female Character. They hate it when teenagers are depicted as whiny. How come the little teenage girl has to depend upon the strong men around her to do all the heavy lifting? Reality, that's why.

I know there's always a balance and everyone will have their own viewpoint and interpretation. But for me realism is good. Maybe it will be harder to sell a story that has a character who isn't perfect, who doesn't get things right at the start and isn't happy to be on her adventure. Maybe readers do want superhero characters who take charge right away and control their own fate. But that's not my story; it's not what I want to write. I've decided I'm happy with the reality I've created, the one that mirrors the world I see. That's what's most important to me.

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