I talk a lot about realism (obviously, since I’ve got this whole unofficial series about it going on my blog), and I’ve made it pretty clear that I like things in the books I read to be pretty realistic. But so far I’ve talked about specific things, like characters and injuries. Today I want to get a little more broad.
This was actually something I noticed in a book I read lately. The book, overall, was a fairly unrealistic one. But I realized it was the details and small things that seemed to bother me the most. So then I thought back to some other books I read recently… and that does seem to be common thing for me. In a way it seems weird, but in way I think it makes sense. So let’s discuss!
Why the Little Things Drive Me Crazier
For me the thing is, if it’s a big thing that’s not realistic, then it’s almost like it becomes part of the premise. And I can accept pretty much any premise. I’m a sci-fi/fantasy reader, I accept crazy premises on a daily basis. It’s what I do.
But when details and little things are unrealistic, even if they have no significance on the plot or the characters whatsoever, it bothers me. Though I suppose it’s the fact that they have no significance that makes it even worse, because why even include them in the first place?!
If an author needs to make something big somewhat unrealistic in order to create the whole story and plot, that kind of makes it justifiable. For example, I recently read a book in which a necromancer found a dead man on his way home and decided to make him a zombie and then date him. Is that realistic? No. No sane person would find a dead man and drag him home rather than call the cops just because the man is sexy. But that was the premise of the book, a necromancer and his zombie boyfriend, so I accepted it.
But there’s no way to justify including random, unimportant unrealistic things. For example, I also recently read a book in which the main character had a tattoo on the palm of her hand. I know a little bit about tattoos, but I’m no expert, so I did a quick bit of Google research. Most tattooists refuse to even do palm tattoos because they’re too difficult. Palm skin heals differently, better and quicker than other skin (something I can attest to since I used to have callused, ripped, mangled palms from gymnastics but now have not even a single scar or blemish). That means the ink often doesn’t take. Not only that, it’d be completely impractical because you’d have to keep your hand bandaged up and wouldn’t be able to use it the whole time it was healing. And it’d be painful. And it’d fade a lot faster since you use and wash your hands so much. And where exactly did she get this tattoo? She was 17 which means either her mother had to give permission (which I doubt happened considering the descriptions of her mother) or she got it illegally, but anyone giving illegal tattoos probably isn’t good enough to do one on a palm. Sorry, I’m ranting now, but do you see my point?! That unrealistic detail was so much more aggravating to me because there was no reason or explanation given for why the tattoo would be on the character’s palm which means it could’ve easily been on any other body part.
And when it comes to details that could so easily be altered without affecting the story, I feel like, if I can find the necessary information on the topic with a five minute Google search, why couldn’t the author? Did they just not care enough about their readers to bother researching?
My Overall Thoughts About Big Things vs. Little Things in Terms of Realism
Of course there are exceptions. I’m sure I’ve read about big inaccuracies or unrealistic things that were just too much for me to handle and ruined the story, and I know I’ve read about unrealistic details that I was able to brush off. Generally, one or two small unrealistic things are not an issue—they might bother me, but they won’t necessarily ruin a book. And the more I like a book, the more small things I’m willing to let slide. But when I don’t like a book, those little things start to stand out more and more. And when there end up being a whole bunch of small things, they just start to pile up and completely kill my enjoyment. Those are actually the types of books that slowly drive me crazy until I start talking to them out loud, saying things like, “Seriously? Are you kidding me?” and getting the urge to throw them across the room.
So really, I’d prefer that neither the big things nor the details be unrealistic, but big things that practically become part of the premise are easier for me to handle, and it all really depends on the individual book and what exactly the unrealistic things are.