Likeable Literature, Part 2

Continuing my series started earlier, this time consider the two sometimes opposing forces of realism and fantasy.

I concede that much of this battle is personal taste; there is a class of people who prefer realistic stories and a class of people who prefer fantastical ones. I think, however, that a balance should be struck in either case. A story that is too realistic runs the risk of becoming uninteresting, and a story too fantastical runs the risk of losing suspension of disbelief.

Where this balance lies depends on the genre of the story. A fable leans towards the fantastical side, because it aims to teach. Hence we have fables like Aesop’s The Tortoise and the Hare, which I dare contend is not a very realistic story. However, the story is an allegory, as fables are apt to be. Allegories, by design, need not be entirely realistic.

Historical fiction is perhaps the other extreme; to the point that some popular novels are even true stories adapted to book form. The entire point of this genre is to reënact history, and thus it should be as realistic as possible within reasonable bounds.

As a reader, I enjoy a mix of genres including fables and historical fiction. Which one I pick is very dependent on my mood and current state of mind. I believe that many readers are similar; they should enjoy both realistic and fantastical stories provided it is suitable for the genre.

By and large, it seems to me that the “right” amount of realism for a particular story depends on the effect and goal one strives to achieve for that story, which in turn heavily depends on its genre. Hence it is counterproductive to look for a simple formula balancing realism and fantasy, but instead one should let the correct degree of realism fall into place from other considerations of the story.

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