Writing is series of balancing acts. The decisions range from how much dialogue compared to narrative to use, how strong or timid to depict the characters, what emotions to try and evoke from the reader, should a particular chapter be fast paced or slow, and so on and so on. Well adding to that list is realism versus the fantastic. No matter the setting it is an important consideration that a writer decides how much realism to use in their story.

There is no one right answer and a multitude of variables go into the decision, but the author should consider a few key elements. Obviously a paranormal writer will use more fantastic elements than in a historic romance. Or a devoted science fiction author will use legitimate science as opposed to a fantasy writer portraying magic. However, all fiction is merely a story and therefore has some degree of the fantastic, so how much is too much?

The number one rule of thumb in writing is; less is more.

A writer should carefully choose what fantastic elements they require to tell their story and establish their world. Any other whimsical displays of the unbelievable would be best dropped no matter how unusual setting or what the genre is.

Here are three reasons why.

First, the more fantastic elements in a novel the more time the writer spends explaining them. This diminishes the focus on the characters and will grind the plot to a halt. It would be easy to fall into the trap of using page after page to describe a menagerie of creatures or detail a catalog of cyber enhancements that don’t have anything to with the story.

Secondly, bountiful fantastic elements will alienate the reader. Even the most hardcore paranormal fan will become bored with a world that is inhabited by a prolific number of demons and vampires that each have a unique inhuman appearance, abilities, and mannerisms. All that fabricated detail will be lost and the characters become a jumble of weird names and confusing descriptions.

Lastly, the more fantastic elements in a story the less of an impact they have individually. If a writer picks his battles with reality and is conservative with his use of the surreal, supernatural, paranormal, magical, cybernetic, or alien elements then he or she can deliver a powerful, but believable effect.

This is the appeal of paranormal stories as well as hard science fiction and subtle fantasy. The reader is presented with a world that is very much like the one they live in only with an imaginative twist. The fun is discovering how the fantastic interacts with the mundane and learning the way the characters fit into that dichotomy.

Even in high fantasy, Lord of the Rings for example, the characters use swords, ride horses, smoke, and do everyday things that make them real to the reader. While every genre may use a varying amount of the fantastic it is imperative that the writers not abandon all references to the world we know.

Remember to keep it real and happy writing.

Michael Matthews Bingamon


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