As a writer, I believe every genre has its charm but, nothing quite captures my heart the way a realistic story does. When done well, this genre can draw readers into a journey that mirrors the complexities of daily life.

In this blog post, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the art of writing realistic fiction. We’ll explore the nuances of writing believable characters, dialogue, and settings, and how to incorporate real-life issues within your story. 

Table of Contents

What is Realistic Fiction?

Before diving into the world of realistic literature, let’s first determine what it is exactly. When I was planning out this article, I remember asking myself “What is realistic fiction?”. Aren’t genres like romance and thrillers technically also realistic fiction? Does this genre encompass everything that doesn’t have any supernatural elements in it? Which story ideas are considered realistic fiction? 

I wasn’t exactly sure how to describe it so, like any reasonable person, I turned to Google. The first definition I found was from a website called Study.com. They defined realistic fiction as follows:

“Realistic fiction is a genre of literature that consists of stories and characters that seem like they could happen or exist in real life. While they are not true stories, they read like they could be.”

While I thought this definition was accurate, it still lacked the depth I was looking for. So I continued searching for better answers when I stumbled across this post from fictionary.co. Here is how they described realistic fiction: 

“Realistic fiction offers the writer the chance to explore the world as they perceive it, from the unique lens of personal experience to create an emotional and intellectual reaction in the reader: to see the world through new eyes.” 

With this definition, they hit the nail on the head. The essence of realistic fiction is more than just stories that seem like could happen in real life. These stories offer readers an experience that I can only describe as “ the closest thing to walking in someone else’s shoes”.  It thrives on relatable characters, authentic settings, and narratives that resonate with the human experience and offers readers “ a mirror into our world and ourselves” all while capturing the essence of everyday life. Unlike most other genres, it’s not a way of escaping reality but about discovering the world through a different perspective. 

How to Create Realistic Characters

One of the first things to think about when writing realistic fiction is creating believable characters. Realistic characters are the heart and soul of any fiction story and it’s important to know how to write characters that feel like real people.

Step #1: Your Characters need a Backstory

This might be pretty obvious but it still needs to be stated. If you want your character to feel like real people, they NEED a good backstory. Just like you and I did not pop out of thin air, they didn’t either. Your characters come from somewhere. They were born, they grew up, and for good or bad, they had experiences that shaped them into the person they are today. You need to help your readers understand where your characters come from and why they are the way they are. 

To craft a good backstory, start with the basics like your character’s name, age, gender, and physical appearance. Then take some time to explore your character’s family background. Who are their parents? How did they grow up? What significant moments impacted them?

Once you’ve created a basic character profile, figure out what their role is in the world you’ve created and how their backstory ties into that role. For example, if your main plot point is about a dad who struggles with alcoholism, then you need to work your way backward and decide how he got to that point. How did he develop alcoholism? What led him down the path he is currently on right now? Using this technique can help you craft coherent and impactful storylines for your characters.

Step #2: Motivations, Core Beliefs & Values

The second step when writing realistic characters is knowing what drives and motivates them. What are their desires, dreams, and fears? Remember that your character’s core beliefs and values will most likely be greatly influenced by their upbringing, their cultural background, or personal experiences. 

Integrating this aspect into your story will help your characters feel more realistic. Note that these motivations will influence their decisions and actions throughout their story so make sure that they are congruent with your character’s actions. This will help your readers get a good grasp of what kind of people they are. 

Step #3: Decide what their personality is going to be like

The next important aspect to think about when creating realistic, multifaceted characters is their personalities. Take the time to develop your character’s traits. Here are some examples of traits your characters could have:

  • Positive Traits: Courage, kindness, intelligence and empathy, resilient, funny, honest, loyal, generous, adventurous, confident, patient, forgiving, open-minded, responsible, courteous, and charismatic. 
  • Negative traits: Manipulative, arrogant, perfectionist, stubborn, selfish, impulsive, lazy, impatient, pessimistic, reckless, insensitive vindictive, inconsiderate, cynical, overbearing, ruthless, envious, irresponsible. 

It’s important that your characters are multidimensional and don’t come across as caricatures. Ensuring they have both positive and negative traits is one way of making them feel more realistic to your readers because flaws humanize your characters. Humans aren’t perfect and your characters shouldn’t be either. They will inevitably make mistakes, have regrets, and face consequences. How they handle their failures and learn from their experiences will determine how they develop as people.

Another way of making your characters more realistic is by having them contradict themselves occasionally. Real people often have contradictions in their personalities. So, a character who is brave when facing dangerous situations might have a deep-seated fear of intimacy or commitment. These contradictions help your characters feel more relatable to your readers.

  • My Suggestion: When creating your characters, try looking for examples of people who have the personality you’re trying to portray. For example, if your character is supposed to be this funny, charming young man who is also dishonest, then look for 2 to 3 celebrities, people you know, or even characters from TV shows who have the traits you want to write about. Observe and study them because it will give you a good feel as to how your character talks, how they respond to certain situations etc.  

Step #4: Character Development

Character development is an essential aspect of realistic fiction. Your characters should evolve in a way that feels natural to your readers. For example, if your character starts as a shy, insecure introvert with social anxiety,  it wouldn’t make sense that by the end of your story, they transformed into a confident charismatic extrovert with no anxiety. Although this type of growth is possible, such changes can take years. So while your characters should grow, develop, and change throughout your story, it needs to unfold organically and mirror the complexities of human development. 

How to Write Realistic Fiction

Tip #1: Writing in a First-Person Narrative

The first tip for writing realistic fiction is to write your story with a first-person narrative. Writing in the first-person narrative creates an immediate connection between the reader and the character. Readers can step into your character’s shoes and get to experience the story from their perspective. This intimate narrative style helps readers relate to characters and feel like they are part of a real-life journey. However, it’s important to mention that while first-person narrative is great for realistic fiction, it’s possible to write in this genre by using other perspectives as well. 

Tip #2: Realistic Dialogue

The second tip is to make sure that the dialogue between your characters feels relatable. Realistic dialogue is the key to making your characters sound authentic. Have you ever watched a show and thought “Who the hell talks like that”. Well, that’s exactly what you want to AVOID in your story. So, make sure that when your characters speak, they sound like real people. Their conversations should flow naturally and you should avoid overly scripted or forced dialogue. One way to do this is by simply sounding out your dialogue out loud with another person. Oftentimes, hearing certain phrases and sentences out loud makes you realize that they don’t sound natural. Dialogue is also a great opportunity for your characters to showcase their distinct personalities. 

Tip #3: Body Language 

Body language is another important component when it comes to writing realistic fiction. One way to learn how to describe your characters’ body language is simply by engaging in people-watching. Observing real people can provide valuable insights into how characters should interact and express themselves. For example, if you’re writing about a young boy who loves to skateboard, it’s a good idea to go to the park and simply observe the people who fit that description. Watch how they interact with one another, and take note of what expressions they use and what their body language is like. I find that people-watching is not only a great source of inspiration but also an easy way to increase your writing skills. 

Tip #4: Realistic Settings

The setting of your story plays a pivotal role in creating a realistic fiction experience. For the most part, your story should take place in a contemporary setting that resonates with your readers. When deciding where your story will take place, try to draw inspiration from real-life locations, experiences, and cultural elements to ground your story. A believable setting helps readers visualize and connect with the world you’ve created.

Tip #5: Social Issues

The beauty of realistic fiction stories is that it provides a platform to address and explore real-life issues. So, incorporating social issues, real events that happened in the past, or current events into your narrative can be a great way to add depth and authenticity to your story. You can even inspire yourself from personal events that have happened to you to craft the plot of your novel. This will not only help your story feel more realistic but also allow readers to connect with characters on a more profound level. 

Crafting compelling story arcs about contemporary life, especially in the genre of realistic fiction, can be intimidating. The biggest challenges that come with writing these kinds of stories is making the world and the characters you create feel authentic to your readers. However, with these tips, you’ll be well on your way to creating characters, dialogue, and settings that mirror real life. So, grab your pen and let your stories come alive!

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