What is Realistic Fiction?
Every story (even realistic fiction story) takes us into a different world. We experience the familiar in strange, new ways or discover the strange is oddly familiar.
Realistic fiction offers the reader a familiar setting with people they recognize from daily life. Realistic fiction offers the writer the chance to explore the world as they perceive it, from the unique lens of personal experience to create an emotional and intellectual reaction in the reader: to see the world through new eyes.
The audience for realistic fiction is as wide as the world.
Drawn to the familiar with curiosity about how others live, readers come to realistic fiction for the promise of believable characters in realistic settings dealing with relatable issues.
The recognizable makes it easy to suspend disbelief and live with these characters. From here, the writer has the opportunity to move hearts and minds.
Realistic fiction offers readers a message.
This doesn’t have to be a moral lesson. Through realistic fiction, the author can offer a message about people, nature or the world and help the reader explore their own beliefs and values.
Writers of realistic fiction do more than entertain, they offer a mirror into our world and ourselves.
The characters and situations stay in our minds, showing options for choices and actions we can take in a world where we can’t count on magic powers or a superhero to save us.
- Believable characters (dialogue reflects real life which may include regional dialects and sentence fragments)
- Set in the present or recent past
- Realistic setting (can be invented but must conform to the current world)
- Relatable conflict or central issue/dilemma (may be drawn from current events and issues) or from common human issues/problems (like divorce, loss, growing up, or mental illness)
- Message that reader can apply to everyday life
How does Realistic Fiction fit with Other Genres?
While narrative nonfiction must be grounded in the truth, realistic fiction can draw from current events and issues without the constraints of accuracy. You can read more about narrative nonfiction here.
Does this definition mean that realistic fiction is another name for literary fiction?
Both explore humans in realistic settings. It is possible that your realistic fiction may employ symbols and probe the human condition with a character-driven plot.
What defines literary fiction can be as much how the audience and critics respond to it as it is the intent of the writer.
If you are writing realistic fiction, you may find others will label it literary fiction, or not. The key for you will be your readers. Who are you writing this for? Who are you communicating with through this story? If you aren’t intentionally writing literary fiction, relax and write to reach your readers.
Realistic fiction can include realistic historical fiction, but historical fiction’s setting requires commitment to research the time period, place and people to avoid plot holes that may take the reader out of the story.
Realistic fiction is set in the current time period or recent past.
You will want to research if you are using an actual place or issue to ensure you make it as authentic as possible, but you won’t need to explore older texts to see how things have changed if you visit a site for research.
If you want to set your realistic fiction further in the past, check out this blog on Historical Fiction!
Finally, the genre expectations for realistic fiction are to explore issues that are relatable to the reader through modern, realistic setting, plot and characters. This offers a frame for other genres as subplots such as romance, adventure or mystery.
If you integrate these subplots, be sure to meet essential genre expectations for your reader.
For example, to infuse romance into your story, check out this blog.
The Fault in Our Stars weaves a strong romance into the realistic story. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? includes a mystery as the title suggests. With the core dilemma rooted in our common human condition, these remain primarily realistic fiction.
For the writer
- Using a contemporary issue you feel passionate about,
- Finding an everyday struggle you want to address in your unique way, and;
- If, and how, your own beliefs will play a role in your story.
- Just because it is set in the real, mundane world, your story shouldn’t be mundane or boring!
- Be sure you have high stakes for your protagonist if they don’t reach their story goal.
- The ending must give a sense of completion but avoid being predictable. Because of Winn-Dixie offers an example of this.
- Realistic fiction is set in current times, but can transcend becoming dated with compelling characters facing relatable issues. The Outsiders and The Great Gatsby are rooted in their time and speak to readers today.
- Keep your settings vivid as well as accurate; use senses to bring your settings to life
There are some limits to remain true to the promise of realistic fiction:
- The solution to obstacles must be believable and rooted in the character’s actions
- No supernatural/magic solutions! If you want to look at these elements within a realistic current world, consider urban fantasy or supernatural genres. Or look to examples of realistic fiction that integrate fantasy in a realistic way such as Bridge to Terabithia where the characters create an imaginary world.
As you write your realistic fiction story, know that you are giving your readers an open door into another life. They will be able to see how the message relates to their own life.
You are giving them the gift of reflecting on how they see the world and how that might be different.
They can see how to transform the world. Realistic fiction gives you a vessel to steer your reader toward finding a new truth, recognizing a bit of themselves and, hopefully, thinking about the world a little differently than before.
Examples of Realistic Fiction
The world is full of amazing examples of realistic fiction that appeal to a wider readership. Whether rooted in humor or drama, realistic novels will engage your heart and mind. Here are just a few examples:
- Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
- Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
- Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
- The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
- The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
- The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
- The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton
- Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
Article Written by Lisa Taylor
Stories are powerful. Through my experience as an educator and librarian, I’ve explored how stories work and supported writers in finding their voices and honing their craft.
As a Fictionary Certified StoryCoach Editor, I offer a thorough, objective structural story edit that honours your voice, recognises and celebrates your skill, and offers clear, actionable ideas on ways to make your story shine even more. You can reach me through the Fictionary Online Community.
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