Furry Writers' Guild Forum

A focus on Fantasy or Reality in Fiction?

I realise this may well be a non-argument considering the nature of these forums, however, what is your opinion on the whole fantasy versus reality debate in literature? By this I mean comments expressing the sentiment that literature should be about real people and real stories.

I recently came across an article in a well-known magazine here in the UK reviewing Game of Thrones. The gist of the article was that despite everyone else telling the author that he’d like it, he did not. The reason was that none of it felt real or believable. The author of the piece said he wanted real stories, in real situations. I naturally found this amusing, as there are other articles out there that praise Game of Thrones and pinpoint it’s success on real, believable characters.

In my opinion, I find those who call for literature to be able real things to be missing the point. Even fiction that is set in our present day, and uses ‘real’ characters, is equally unreal as fantasy. It’s fiction after all, and when you look at it, none of it is real. The point is, even fiction that grounds itself in reality is in itself, unreal. If you want to demand that all literature, or art for that matter, trade in ‘real’ things, you’re missing the point. I refer back to Plato’s ideas on art as imitation in these matters. To summarise, Plato argued that all art is imitation, as the artist creates an impression of, say a table, rather than a real table. So if you want to cut to the heart of the matter, all fiction isn’t real.

If you ask me, claims that literature must deal with real people, in real settings, is quite an illusion because of its inherent fictitious nature. Moreover, I think this stance also comes from a utilitarian perspective that is imposed upon books. For some, things that do not serve a use should be cast out, and this anxiety is greatest for things that deal in unrealities. Realist fiction can escape this anxiety because it attempts to deal with real things. Fantasy, or any other fiction that is not sticking to our reality, is exposed to such scrutiny. When I was growing up, my parents actually tried to get me to read ‘grown-up’ fiction by various authors instead of fantasy. The idea was that fantasy was immature and childish because it blatantly had nothing to do with reality. The result was I just stopped reading.

While I personally lean heavily towards fantasy and other such genres, I find that fiction should not be restricted, as its about a freedom to think and read beyond the confines of our reality. At the heart of it, every single piece of fiction does that.

Anyway, I’m curious, what do you all think?

O.o I never realized this was a debate. I think it all just comes down to personal taste. The only thing that makes me twinge is if you want real people in real events, why not read history books or (auto)biographies where you’ll be guaranteed not to be disappointed (unless of course the events in the books are horribly represented due to personal opinion, which is essentially unavoidable :P).

The success of all fiction is based on the willing suspension of disbelief. Some people are better at that than others. This is in at least some cases why certain people dislike science fiction, for example.

Personally, I don’t write for the imaginatively-challenged. Nor do I intend to start. It’d be like a chef giving up the use of spices because some people get dyspepsia from them.

May I quote you on this? Very well-said.

We already have lots of that. We call it “non-fiction.”

But, more seriously, almost all literature and almost all art for that matter relies on presenting information in an inherently unnatural manner that nonetheless seems and feels more ordered. You could easily make a sliding scale that runs through “Real story” to “based on real events” to “not based on real events, but based on historical reality” (most literary fiction) to “plausible alternate history” (lots of modern spy thrillers) to “unlikely events but holding up to scientific knowledge” to “heck with it, let’s just have magic.” At what point on the slider do things go from “real” to “unreal”? I’d argue that you step into unreal the moment you even touch the scale.

I try hard not to tax the reader’s suspension of disbelief beyond capacity, but at the same time I do not consider myself a realist and would be surprised if anyone else described me as such.

I think what others have said above sums up my take, so I won’t waste space rephrasing those positions.

I wonder if the author is one of those people who mistake “Fantasy” for “Historical Fiction”.

I’d be honored!

I think Rabbit summed up the point perfectly. XD

These are not mutually exclusive things. ; )
For instance, The Chronicles of Narnia is both Fantasy and set in a convincing World War 2 Brittain. (I used this since everybody is pretty much familiar with Narnia.)

But Tele-- what I really like to do when I’m writing fantasy is make it as close to realism as possible at first and then be very subtle with my fantastic elements. The Historian follows this model pretty well. But there’s nothing wrong with going over the top with your fantastic elements so long as there is some convention in the story to ground the reader.

If we’re on a magical hut on a mountain side, what does the interior look like? How do a person manage to live here. What tools do they use? All of these are easy ways to incorporate the fantastic while rooting a reader in the scene.