Keeping it Real

It’s no secret that I love fantasy. But when I write, my stories tend to take place in the real world. They’ll have a fantastic element (or two or three!) but they’re happening in ordinary places where you wouldn’t expect to find magic of any sort. I like the idea that magic exists if you just know where to look. That guy you’re sitting next to could become a werewolf when it gets cold. The girl in your class could be reading your mind, even if she doesn’t know how she got this ability.

So if you’ve got these fantastic elements in your story, how do you keep it real? How do you make people believe this could happen to them?

For me, the key is to provide enough detail so that readers can relate, but not so much that it bogs down the story. For example, if I mention palm trees, island music and pink flamingos, you know you’re not in Kansas anymore. Add some Coco Loco and you’re sitting pretty, right?

I can spend weeks researching a place like Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. I may know when it was built and remodeled, who funded it, the schedule of events and seating capacity in the auditorium. But now your eyes are glazing over. None of those details are going to bring a story to life. So it’s also important to know which details to include.

What’s going on in your stories? What details are you using to keep it real?

22 thoughts on “Keeping it Real

  1. Great post, Sherri. Most of my writing is in the form of picture books and it's often not realistic. I like that though and know my kids like it, so it works for me. However, both of my MGs I've written take place in the real world. I love researching things like you mentioned about the Observatory. It's always fun to learn more about places like that, especially picking up little facts. I think people would be more interested knowing that James Dean filmed “Rebel Without A Case” there or mentioning the statue of him, rather than when it was built and such. Just tidbits like that is what makes writing fun for me.

  2. This is a topic I think about alot. I think that these types of books (the urban fantasy type, where it's fantasy but in the real world) are held to a higher scrutiny than regular fantasy because you have to have appropriate explanations and details and ride a fine balance between the two.

  3. It's funny, the fantasy that I enjoy reading is mostly realistic. I cannot connect to the really out-there fantasy where the characters aren't human (unless they act in ways I can connect to) or if they behave in ways I cannot at all relate to. It's neat to think about : )

  4. This is the ever-present fine line, isn't it? I tend to go overboard with specific things and my crit partners have to be like, “Dude, we got it!”

    I think it's making your characters seem human that counts. They need to be flawed, yet lovable. And then the reader will pretty much go with you on whatever powers you give them.

  5. Thought provoking. I started writing fantasy to avoid reality.
    On thinking about it, I think reality appears whenever you draw well-rounded characters who do more than chase the plot line of your story.

  6. Rena: I'm a research junkie too πŸ™‚ And Rebel Without a Cause is a great detail a lot of people associate with the Observatory.

    MeganRebekah: I'm never sure if I should call it urban fantasy or magical realism. Topic for another post!

    Rena: Rebel Without a Case sounds like a great book title!

    KLo: I also prefer not having to learn about a whole new world. Escapist that I am, I like thinking that my fantasies could really happen πŸ™‚

    Shannon: Never easy to write, always fun to read πŸ˜€

    Elana: It is a fine line. I tend to write in a mad rush then go back and fill in more details later. And with all my wonderful research, it's sometimes hard to decide which details get left behind…

    Kay: Perfectly stated!

  7. Amy: Even with memoir you have to decide which details are the most important to highlight. In a sense, you're heightening the reality by focusing on a single event or POV when you share your true life stories.

    Tess: I think all fiction is fantasy to a degree. Some stories just have more fantastical elements than others!

  8. Bingo! I love this–too many details just really slow/bog things down. With the historical I'm working on, I KNOW I'm leaving out details I'll have to weave in later, but I need to get the story on the page. I'm reading & reading to get a feel of the time, and–hopefully–to get a strong sense of what details I will need.

    Hey, have you read Jim Butcher's Dresden Files? Not kids books,although my son loves them, but talk about magic in the real world…and funny.

  9. This is the kind of stuff I write. I just use everyday places like the mall or the high school classroom. simple things. the sun shining off the desks or the smell of the heaters first day running.

  10. That's a tough one. Really, anything fantasy can be made believable by the right writer. Don't know if I'm there yet, but I agree with you. It's all about including the right details. Once you start including too many it starts sounding forced. πŸ™‚

  11. Most excellent post! I loved reading this, because that is what I try to accomplish, too. In fact, I was gratified that one crit partner said she liked that I made the fantasy in my story seem natural, like it could really be happening in a normal world.
    How I do it is by trying to think how it could indeed happen, if only….I hope I can keep it up and you do, too!

  12. Great post. I love researching. A lot of what I research is just to put me in the right frame of mind to write. It puts me in the time and place. I'm doing a MG HF. I found a great site that has video and audio clips from the time period I'm writing about. All fiction is based on fact, in order for your reader to be able to believe your fiction it has to have a real basis to allow the reader to relate to the story.

  13. I think all the research you do is worth it. If you, the writer, give me only one line describing a place, but you've researched it like crazy, then ideally, you know this place so well that you've given me your best line, the one that makes me see it in my mind. I guess we run into problems when we fall in love with research and put it ALL in. πŸ™‚

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