Monday, December 1, 2008

Real, but not too Real

As I said in a previous post, characters in stories need to be as real as possible. The more believable they are, the better for the reader.

And stories are all about the entertainment of the reader.

The requirements for setting can be quite different from those for characters.

Naturally, the setting of a story needs to be true to life, believable and historically accurate in order to place a reader securely into its location.

But it is possible for a writer to make a setting too real.


In essense, by using what is too unfamiliar. Even when writing a fantasy a writer must ground the reader in a setting by making him comfortable with a familiarity of his surroundings.

For example, in my fantasy YA novel, LITTLE GREEK GODS, the gods turned into human children interact with other human beings throughout the book. They journey through the countryside and experience things familiar to all people. With the readers being placed comfortably within what is familiar, they are ready to experience the unfamiliar such as the heroes fighting off monsters.

Another way of making a setting too real is by allowing unfamiliar conversation into the story. All areas of the world have a way of speaking that is specific to them. English spoken in England, Australia, Asia and the United States is not exactly the same English. Even within different parts of the US, language varies and so do expressions and coloquialisms. While the use of some native expressions goes a long way to making a setting more real, an overuse of local language will frustrate the reader and encourage him to close the book.

Different eras in history also mean different brands of the English language (or any other language). If one is writing a book to be published in the US which is set in Fourteenth-Century England, readers would be quite frustrated if the author wrote the conversation in a manner that was common speech of that time period. The English of that day was quite different from the English of the Twenty-first Century. The dialog in that Fourteenth-Century novel should sound like it is being spoken by people from centruies ago, but it should not read clumsily as it would if it were picture-perfectly accurate.

When writing historical fiction, it is important to setting to make the language, technology, history, locality, etc. true and accurate while at the same time using discretion and lattitude in such a way that the author keeps the reader comfortable in her surroundings.

Keep it real (but not too real).
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