When we see a movie or read a book, the way we evaluate it often comes down to how “realistic” it was, or whether we could “relate” to it. The best writers make us see life in a way we recognize as real, on the one hand, but on the other hand, they also help us understand and notice things we hadn’t noticed before.
Realism is often defined as the imitation of real life. Creative non-fiction naturally lends itself to this mode since it is based on true stories. However, the author still must select, order, and craft details–so choices must still be made about how real life is presented, and the writer must use artistic criteria to make these choices. It would not make sense, for example, to include every unrelated detail of life in our narrative essays–having a theme or main idea helps us decide what to put in the story and what to leave out.
1. How do you define realism in writing? What makes something seem realistic? Can you give examples of books, essays, stories, TV shows, or movies that use realism well? Why are we attracted to what is realistic? What are the benefits of realistic writing? How can we make even fictional stories seem realistic?
2. Another issue that comes up in relation to realism is how to present disturbing details of real life, especially as Christians. The word “gratuitous” in reference to cursing, violence, sex, etc., means “not needed”–gratuitous details are included for thrills or to sell tickets, etc., not because they were artistically necessary. What are your thoughts on the language in the story we read this week, “Big Me”? Can disturbing details advance a meaningful theme by providing realism, emphasizing change & redemption, showing the reality of evil, etc.? Or are they corrupting and desensitizing to readers? Is it possible to be realistic and leave these things out? Would you have to make a decision regarding such details in your narrative essay? Give examples of instances in movies, TV, or books in which certain disturbing details were either gratuitious or artistically necessary to the meaning of the piece.
3. Another issue that arises with non-fiction is the question of how much artistic liberty or poetic license a writer can take in order to get at the essential truth of a situation. For example, some writers combine multiple events or people into one scene or character to simplify a story. What is the proper balance between “emotional” truth and “factual” truth? If a writer makes too many changes to a true story, is it still true? On the other hand, if a writer sticks to just the facts, could the story come across as boring, random, or pointless? When recounting dialogue and speech, it is also sometimes impossible to remember a person’s exact words unless they were recorded–so a creative non-fiction writer must write dialogue that is true to the essence of what happened, if not a verbatim record of what was said. Reflect on your thoughts about artistic license. How can it be used to craft a meaningful non-fiction story without changing the facts too much.
Write a 3-4 page reflection in which you explain your rationale for your opinions about the above questions. Be sure to use examples from the reading, from other works of creative writing (especially literature and screenplays), and from decisions you might have to make in your own writing. Submit your essay to the link above.
Primary source (Chapter 2)
Writing Fiction, Tenth Edition: A Guide to Narrative Craft (Chicago Guides to Writing, Editing, and Publishing)