Integrating Reality Into Fiction: Can You and Should You?

1.) Bathroom breaks
2.) Showers and Baths
3.) The usual inconsistency and irrelevancy of dreams/nightmares
4.) Training
5.) Sicknesses
6.) Recovery from injuries
7.) Meals
8.) Unrefined talking

Loved1 suggested that this Tip of the Month article be about the logic of the real world, and so that's what I've decided to write about. At first, I didn't plan on using this as a topic. The short answer doesn't require a whole article: Unless you're writing literary fiction, the writing world has changed a lot since Jane Austen's time. Most agents, publishers, and readers prefer contemporary fiction to be concise. Welcome to the age where writers are taught to consistently use the active voice, remove as many adverbs as possible, avoid info dumps, and avoid purple prose. Basically, you have to master conciseness. You have to live by the adage, "kill your darlings."

Because writers have to be concise, it only makes sense to omit the eight situations above, since alot of writers can't write them skillfully and instead create scenes that do nothing but take up space. Plus, the eight situations are often irrelevant. Relevance is important when being concise. "Kill your darlings" is, after all, a cooler/simpler way of saying, "Remove what is irrelevant, even if it is a scene you're convinced is the best."

I could stop here, but I've decided to elaborate on all eight with one question in mind: Does there ever come a time when the irrelevant is relevant?

Note: Alot of my examples will come from movies, tv shows, and my WIP Savior of the Damned. I've read hundreds of books, but I know I will have a hard time recalling the specific examples I need for this article.

1.) Bathroom breaks: I hardly see bathroom breaks being used, and I'm sure this is because writers usually interpret it as assumed or disgusting. When I do see it used, it's either not the focus point or for rash comedy. Here is an example where it's not the focus point: In Final Destination 1, there were two bathroom scenes. The first bathroom break was only shown because of the ominous song playing in the background that Alex commented on. The second bathroom break scene was quick and also served its ominous function. The first plane survivor would die there.

Here is an example where it's rash comedy: In Friday, Mr. Jones's horrible choice of food and his even more horrible bathroom breaks are consistently played for laughs throughout the movie. Using bathroom breaks for rash comedy in a novel is usually in bad taste.

If executed well, bathroom breaks can be used to foreshadow or show characterization. Otherwise, if you're going to have a bathroom break, it's best to mention it in passing and not make a habit out of mentioning it.

2.) Showers and baths: This is both similar to and different than bathroom breaks. Most of the similarities lie in the fact that they both usually happen in a bathroom and that they are both often used in the same way. The biggest difference is that taking a shower and/or bath is shown more in fiction than using the toilet. In a shower or bath scene, the focus is usually not on the physical act of getting clean itself. These are common scenarios:

a.) Taking a shower or bath can be very cathartic. The character can't help but reflect.
b.) The author wants something to happen (of course) and decides that the character must be taking a bath or shower for the desired effect.
c.) The bath or shower is a symbolic scene of the character being cleansed inside out.

Physical and mental cleansing is important in Savior of the Damned: Taking a bath has never solved any of my problems, but I liked to believe that it had. I soaked the day Danny died in order to figure out what I would do without him; I soaked the morning I had to run away from home, the morning after the first time Autir Seras ruined my life; I soaked right before I turned myself into rehab. Whenever I had intentions to take one of my sacred baths, I always turned the water the hottest it could go. First, the heat would send shivers throughout my body. In those initial seconds, I'd just disappear into the water, my mind and body temporarily at peace. Once the heat went from comforting to hot, I'd sit up and start thinking. The goal would switch from cleansing my body to coming up with a current life plan before the heat could become unbearable. No method has ever worked better in forcing me, an indecisive person, to decide.

Right now, I needed to decide: Even though the very idea frightened me, could I become the Savior of the Damned?

3.) Dreams/Nightmares: Some readers dislike the usage of dreams in fiction for the same reason why they dislike the usage of fortune telling characters: They feel that a dream is the author's way of rearing her head, of showing his manipulation, and it plunges said reader out of the story. That's understandable. I don't really have anything against it, but I also don't use it unless it fits the story. In reality, dreams tend to be jumpy and nonsensical, and many authors forget about this and relate the dreams to the story in a way that is much too clear and direct. Now, I don't think people should write random dream sequences as nonsensical as those in reality. This goes back to conciseness. Still, if you think you absolutely need a dream sequence, mix in some unreality with reality. Stephen King does a marvelous job of this. Read some of the dream sequences through the novellas in Four Past Midnight. However, if you're writing a fantasy/supernatural novel, perfectly clear dreams don't seem contrived if dream manipulation is apart of the plot. In Savior of the Damned, certain creatures can change and communicate in dreams, so it only makes sense that certain dreams are clear.

4.) Training: This is, by far, the missing element in some stories that irritate me the most. Showing full training scenes every time they occur is no better than constantly info dumping, but if your character is improving in something, I feel it's important to mention they are training at least once or twice and have at least one scene that shows what their training consists of. If your character is improving and the character isn't training, that's a gimmick! Even those who are naturally advanced at what they do need to train to improve. Don't pull a 'the chosen one' excuse.

5.) Sicknesses: Usually, if a sickness is focused on in fiction, the sickness will grow into a deadly illness or become a significant plot point later on. Characters rarely get a normal cold, or a flue that comes and goes. If you do decide to use a sickness casually, mention it coming and going in passing. It's up to you whether you want to trick the readers into thinking it's a big deal, but it's hard to execute such a trick without simply pissing your readers off.

6.) After battle recovery: Battles, wars, and fights are exhilirating, traumatic, and dangerous. So how come, in many stories, characters aren't sore from being that exhilirated, or mulling over the bad things they saw, or having to deal with injuries after the battle? This depends on characterization and how many battles the characters participate in. If your story is action packed and there's a lot of battles and the character has become desensitized to fights, then it's understandable. You don't want an irrelevant battle reflection for every battle. However, if the character doesn't fight often, it would be very important to touch on the exhiliration, danger (injuries), and traumatic experiences (so much death, killing another, a lover dies, etc..). Here's an example from Savior of the Damned:

I stared, transfixed, at the little hand as it made its way around. Only then, when the clock read nine, did I avert my eyes for the first time since I last barfed an hour ago - a result of the nausea I'd vaguely felt in my Mind Realm and the vivid visions of random, gruesome murders that came everytime I closed my eyes. I wasn't going to get any sleep. Nothing was more apparent.

Before Doceon practically fainted, I tried to get him to sleep in the bed. He didn't reply. Instead, he stayed on the floor in fetal position, skin chipping, breathing unsteady. Sometime during the night, I'd given him my pillow and cover. He didn't argue. That's how I knew how bad my Mind Realm had screwed him over.

When my stomach didn't protest, I knew it was safe to get out of bed. I turned to Doceon and sighed once I realized he hadn't moved at all. What was really going on?

I brushed his hair out of his face, plumped his pillow, and moved the cover below his chin. There was sweat on his forehead. Absent-mindedly, I dabbed at it with the sleave of my shirt.

"Doceon, please get better," I said.

7.) Meals: In fiction, a meal is about connections and conversation. The act of eating itself isn't the focus point. It's the act of eating alone or with others, whether the others be friends, a lover, family, or enemies. It's assumed that the characters regularly eat or they wouldn't be alive. If the characters don't regularly eat, please mention that for characterization's sake. Otherwise, mentioning a meal every time would become wordy.

8.) Unrefined talking: Even the most realistic characters don't talk like real people. Real people stutter, stumble over pronunciation, overuse filler words (like, um, uh). This is actually a good thing. Not the unrefined way in which most real people talk, but that realistic characters don't talk exactly like real people. Fiction, even if it's fantasy, must be realistic enough to keep the reader drawn in, but fiction is NOT reality even if the story is based on reality. Fiction is like a painting, in that it needs to look like the real thing, but every single detail doesn't have to match.

Once again, I'm up for Tip of the Month suggestions! {The next one will be written by my writing forum's co-admin, Kiana.}

~Au Revoir