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Top Tips for Writing Realistic Fiction

When it comes to writing realistic fiction, you’ve probably got some questions: how do I write realistic characters? Is it okay to base characters on real people to make them more believable? How do I write story arcs that feel realistic? Author Bryan Fagan is here with all of the answers!

Breathing Life into Your Main Character

How to create a realistic story

Realistic is a strong word. It can mean so many things to so many people. Many of us want to be entertained to  escape for a while. The genre of realistic fiction exists here to provide an escape the reader can really immerse themself in. If we’re talking about the heart, by the heart I mean emotions, a writer can create a realistic story through love and hate and laughter and tears.  

The biggest challenges in creating a main character that feels real

My biggest worry is creating a person that will flop. Nobody will read my book if it’s full of people they don’t care about. So, how does one create a character that feels real? I like to observe. I like to watch and listen to people. I study their reactions, their smiles or sometimes their anger.

Another thing I do is watch movies. A good movie can teach you so many things. A person’s flaws and strengths, or someone pretending to be strong while dying inside. The handsome man or the beautiful woman, an emotional wreck, or the little boy in the wheelchair who’s stronger than anyone in the room. My challenge is to find these tricks before setting out to create my character, and if I don’t I have failed before I began. 

Creating depth in your protagonist

When I create a protagonist, I find something in them I can relate to. If they remind me of my younger self, even better. By taking something I can connect with I’m able to mold the character,  and by doing so I create the depth I’ve been looking for. This is gold for every writer. Sometimes it’s easy and other times hard. It’s always a guessing game. Many times it will happen during several revisions. We’re getting to know these people. Just like real life, it takes time.

How to Create a Realistic Fiction Story That Works

Going from a story idea to a fully-fledged realistic fiction plot

Some stories write themselves… but not all. It would be nice sometimes. I know some writers who wrote their 300 page novel in a matter of months. Those are the lucky ones. The rest of us can take up to a year or more. I sit down with pen to paper and play around with ideas. My goal is to create a solid foundation before I begin. What is the goal, I’ll ask myself. What are the things stopping me from achieving it? This is step one. The arc will come later. 

Sometimes an author needs to write for a month or more before they understand their characters. It can be frustrating, but who said this was easy, right? To go from a story idea in our heads to something solid on paper takes time and patience. Stubbornness is useful, too.

Do you HAVE to base your novel on a “relatable” topic?

Short answer: No. There are lots of books written on unrelatable topics. Our imaginations travel to the stars and beyond. We are writers. We can do it all but there are some writers, me for example, who search for relatable topics and will have it no other way. I am drawn to real life stuff. Things I can sink my teeth in. The good and bad and all things relatable. But if your taste falls for far away unrelatable adventures, do it. 

How to Create Believable Side Characters

How to create realistic supporting characters without the word-count

I say forget the word count until the later drafts. Write the story and fix it later. When it comes to side characters, as the story progresses they will understand their role. But here’s the thing: Sometimes they want the spotlight on every page. If that happens don’t fight it. It is happening for a reason. Sometimes a writer is wrong with side characters. The right ones will know their place, and so will the writer.  

Is it okay to base your characters on real people?

Absolutely! It happens more than we realize. Many stories are based on best friends or enemies or ourselves. So much about writing is a reflection on ourselves or the people who came into our lives. Our past is full of people who have emotionally and physically touched us. It’s natural for this experience to flow onto the pages we create. 

How do you convey that secondary characters have their own lives and narratives without accidentally making them the/a protagonist?

This is where the writer has to respect the reader. Once a secondary role has been established, it’s up to the reader to make their own rules. A reader may connect to a secondary character and if they do some of them will create their own backstory. 

The key here is pulling back on elaboration. You can tell your reader that a secondary character is having a drama at work in one sentence of dialogue. They don’t need to know the name of their boss and why they’re being such a pain in the ass. They just need to know it exists. This gives the character depth without making them the star of the show. Once an author understands the story they want, they will have the confidence in knowing where every character is placed. If a side character does get out of hand, this is a sign that the story is not fully understood.

How to Build a World that Feels Real

Do you need to specify the time period your novel is set in? 

This is a great question. The answer: It depends. When I’m reading, I like to know what I’m getting into, and part of that is the time period. As a writer you want your reader comfortable, not confused. Confusion is the kiss of death.

In other genres, like Sci-Fi and Fantasy, the time period can be more vague. In realistic fiction, you, the author, need to at least know yourself, otherwise you risk developing a sense of surrealism.

Does the story need to be set in the recent past to feel “real”?

One of the beauties of writing are the rules. There are none. A writer creates the rules and that’s why it’s so much fun. When it comes to feeling real, if a writer is really good at what they do, anything can feel real. Talent wins out everytime.  

What about historical fiction?

Storyline will always be the foundation of every novel but when it comes to historical fiction, accuracy is a close second. Lets say your novel is set in 1700 France. You would need to understand life back then. The technology and means of transportation to name a few. A writer will need to have the information at hand before they begin. 

How to Write Realistic Dialogue

How to use dialogue to create a more realistic setting

Every writer has a weakness. For some it’s dialogue. If that happens to be you I would suggest three things: 1) Practice. Like it or not, your novel needs a strong dialogue in order to create realistic settings. Honing your craft with tons or words over and over is a start. 2) Read your favorite novel. Not only read it but study it. How did the author do it? In your opinion why was everything so damn good? 3) Movies. I love movies. They always help me improve with my writing. Now, there is a fourth, but it’s a little tricky. People watching. There is nothing better than real life and if you can observe without being caught it will teach you a lot.   

How to make sure your fictional character has a unique voice.

It starts with knowing who they are. If a writer tries to force it, the reader will know. Remember: Never try to fool a reader. You will lose every time. When it comes to a unique voice the writer may see it immediately. The voice might jump off the page in the first chapter, but most of the time it will be noticed after several drafts. If this is something you want but it’s not working, eliminate it and try something else. Forcing anything will kill a great story.

Which POV Should You Use to Create a Realistic Feeling?

First person will get you as close as possible to the character. You are their eyes and ears. You see into their thoughts and feel their fears. My strength is first person. That is my comfort zone. I love to know who they are. In many ways, I am them. But there is a down side. For as close as I am to one of them, I am not as close to the others. Some have said third person is looking down on the picture, analyzing the landscape. I agree with that.

So the question to all this is – Which one are you? What are you good at? What feels natural to you? Writing is hard. One of the hardest things you’ll ever do but if there is a POV you’re good at, one that feels natural with little effort, do it. Own it. Who knows, you may be the proud owner of a bestseller. 

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