Is realism automatically a virtue in fiction?

I just saw a criticism of a movie that the dialogue was unlike how actual people speak. And my thought was, well, that assumes the writers and director intended it to sound like actual people speaking. And it goes beyond dialogue, behavior too – I recognize that it can’t be too alien or people will be confused, but as long as it’s coherent, is there any reason a studied artifice can’t be the goal?

I mean, we’re already (usually) talking about people who don’t exist, possibly in places that don’t exist, doing things that didn’t happen; how necessary is some reader’s idea of realism at that point?

Depends on the type of fiction.

Of course not. Many things aren’t intended to be realistic. The first example that popped into my head was The Princess Bride, which has utterly ridiculous characters and dialogue, and yet is great fun to watch.

Fiction is supposed to take you somewhere … else, and the rules may be be completely different there. The question is whether you accept and enjoy the other place, not how closely in dovetails with the real world.

Escapism is a perfectly valid goal for fiction; realism is difficult to reconcile with escapism.

Pretty much this, I don’t care if a comedy or some really campy/pulpy fiction gets ridiculous, but if something more grounded in reality starts getting over the top it will begin to bug me. In fact I think I mentioned in a similar thread a while back that I care more about a work being internally realistic than anything else,for instance I won’t complain about how unrealistic the force is in Star Wars but I’ll never swallow a Hutt Jedi.

No and it’s annoying how often people hate on something because “it’s not real”.

Is it trying to be realistic? Then realism is a virtue.

If it’s not trying to be realistic, then whatever. Internally-consistent is nice, but even then not always necessary.

I doubt people in Tudor England really talked in rhyming couplets when they were about to leave a room, but Shakespeare seems to sell OK.

Cracked.Com had an interesting article about the subject (the clipboard on my phone is broken, or I’d post it). Fiction often deals with people we know NOTHING about. They give the example of mobsters, and people lauding the Sopranos for having realistic ones compared to other dramas.

How do you know? Are you comparing them to real life criminals you know? Probably not. Good writing does not necessarily = realistic, or vice versa.

In my experience, when more than two people are in a room and they are all talking, the dialogue becomes almost impossible to script because many times people talk simultaneously or almost so.

They also rarely actually finish statements unless they are expounding on a subject.
You get a lot of half-finished sentences that the other members of the conversations fill in on their own. Sometimes this leads to hilarity. Sometimes to confusion. Occasionally to unpleasant misunderstanding.

Juno was widely bashed in some circles (apparently for political reasons) for the dialogue being unrealistic. Typical teens don’t talk like that. Neither did Romeo and Juliet.

But who wants to watch 90 minutes of typical teens talking? Realistic teenager drama would be a tremendous bore.

Fiction is about the most interesting side of things, expanded, extracted and cleaned up.

As long as the reader/viewer understands there’s a reason why the story goes a certain way, why not?

I love the Hitchhiker’s Guide books. Realism just gets in the way there.

It’s not a flaw, but many people treat it as such. Usually people mean, “this doesn’t match my experience, limited as it is.” Thus, if they haven’t come across people talking in a certain way, it’s not realistic.

But fiction, by definition, is not real, and there’s no reason it has to be. It has to create verisimilitude, not be realistic.

I think most people actually tend to use it to mean “consistent.” In other words “look, I accept your premise that magic is real in this world, but given the rules you’ve laid out everybody acted like a complete moron. It wasn’t realistic.” Or “look, you never said physics was different here, or implied these people are biologically different from humans and yet they’re making 900yd jumps, yet complaining about having to hop a 5ft high picket fence, that’s not realistic.”

Dialogue doesn’t have to sound like real people talk. Diablo Cody, Kevin Smith, and Aaron Sorkin, to name just three, write characters who talk the way nobody talks in real life, and I love it.

On the other hand, there’s dialogue that just sounds like bad writing. If the writer tried to approximate natural speech and failed, then “the dialogue was unlike how actual people speak” is a fair criticism. Og knows I’ve yelled, “Nobody talks like that!” at the screen more than once.

(Not in a movie theatre. At home)

I think this, and the comment about consistency, are the key. Bad dialogue breaks the illusion of reality. It doesn’t sound natural within the world of that particular movie (which may correspond more or less closely with the “real world” we inhabit).

Yes, I think when people criticize a creative work for a lack of “realism” what they really mean is that it has violated their suspension of disbelief. Off the top of my head I can think of several things that could cause this:

[li]Inconsistency with the reader/viewer’s real life experience, including factual errors[/li][li]Inconsistency with the reader/viewer’s expectations for the genre[/li][li]Inconsistency with the work’s own “rules”[/li][/ul]
Any of these might be overlooked if it’s done in an entertaining manner, but if a work violates what the reader/viewer believes or expects in a manner that is irritating or boring then the reader/viewer is likely to start thinking about the work’s flaws rather than enjoying it.

Much of this is to some extent subjective. A doctor or lawyer might be bothered by factual errors about medicine or the law in a serious drama, while a layperson might be willing to accept plausible-sounding mumbo jumbo. There are whole genres where things that are obviously implausible or impossible are an integral part of the genre (song-and-dance numbers in musicals, magic or mythical creatures in fantasy, death-defying stunts in action movies), and if you’re not willing to go along with that then you just need to avoid the genre altogether.

A lot of complaints about a lack of “realism” in fiction are about the characters not behaving the way the reader/viewer thinks a person in that situation would behave rather than the plausibility of the situation itself. Again though, this can be overlooked if the reader/viewer otherwise finds the work engrossing or if the lack of realism adds to the entertainment value. One rarely hears complaints about the dialogue in a comedy being too funny to be realistic even though real-life conversations often are not funny at all!

Actually, it is known that the Soprano mobsters WERE very realistic. How, you ask? FBI wiretaps of New Jersey mobsters praising the Sopranos for being realistic.

Is that a joke or are you serious? That’s hilarious if true!!

I don’t personally know any, but I’ve been around many who could be the template for the typical Soprano mobster. Maybe not at the Tony Soprano-level, but many at the Paulie Walnuts level. As a stranger asking if one is indeed associated with organized crime is not in the recipe for a long, healthy life, I can’t say for sure that any of these guys were mobsters, but the Gotti kids lived in the area, so yeah, it was thick with Mafia.

ETA: It’s true, antonia107. Funny stuff.

Real Life Sopranos