One of the perennial questions on the internet is “how do I write for the opposite gender?” After that, you usually get the whole argument about who can (and can’t) capture the true essence and mystique of a specific gender. Then, the whole argument of “realism” is brought up.
Therein lies the core issue. Realism.
Writing fiction has nothing to do with being realistic. Authors are creators carefully crafting characters and scenes and stories to reach their readership. You don’t have to justify or impress anyone else other than yourself and your target audience.
Realism doesn’t matter in writing – but here’s what does: author convictions, story plausibility, reader expectations, and genre conventions.
You are writing this story. It is your story. You gotta live with it and at the end of the day, you’re selling it, either to an agent, a publishing company, or directly to readers. Ultimately, you have to be satisfied with how it turns out. Know your Push, your essential motivation, and use it to keep going.
This is where story structure and writing craft come in. Get your problem and solution sorted out, make sure your story follows an outline (either by plotting, or by self-editing after you finish pantsing), strengthen your characterization, and go over your whole manuscript multiple times. Bring in beta readers (preferably at least three for varied opinions), use a critique group, hire an editor, and try to fill in every plot hole and issue you can. Master those fundamentals of fiction as much as you can.
Now the concepts of realism and ‘proper story technique’ are turned upside down. You see, genre conventions are the general structures and expectations of specific genres. Is it realistic for people in novels to be incredibly attractive? Nope, but in certain kinds of genre romance, they both better be knockouts. Is it realistic for all of those urban fantasy men to be devil-may-care, gritty masters of snark or all of those urban fantasy females to wear tight leather and love swords? Nope, but it often goes with the territory.
You can of course thwart genre conventions, but depending on which ones you choose to overturn, beware that it could turn off readers, no matter how good your writing craft. Also, ‘telling’? That’s a bonus in some genres (and some authors are really good at it). What about the dreaded ‘purple prose’? Well, some high fantasy goes over the moon for all the lush over-descriptions, whereas some fast-paced adventure novels drop bits of description as if they are precious, rare diamonds. The key is to know the conventions of your genre and have confidence in how to keep them (or break them smartly).
Reader expectations are often tied into genre conventions. This is a good thing, because you’ll know how to deliver what your readers want, be it thrilling cliffhanger endings for suspense or happy ever afters for romance. To know reader expectations, haunt book reviews, book blogs, and book club discussion areas. Also, grab a second round of beta readers to give purely reader-response.
The good thing is that readers often expect different things than authors. They want to be entertained, pleased, surprised, comforted, thrilled, mesmerized, shocked, and/or anything else that is considered part of the deal. Depending on the market area, they may overlook typos, spelling, or grammar errors, but they can be far less forgiving if you fail one of the expectations (couple doesn’t get together, plot twists don’t twist, etc).
Marketing tip – make sure your book cover, blurb, and overall presentation hit the targets for your genre and reader expectations. Otherwise, you could be attracting the wrong kinds of readers and that does not lead to good reviews (consider how frustrated suspense readers would be to get a sappy romance, or how annoyed high fantasy fans would be to get a stripped-down action-suspense plot). Granted, you could still get negative reviews for other reasons, but don’t let off-target marketing be one of them!
So go ahead–write unrealistic fiction! Make your characters strong, potent, memorable. Make your stories incredible. Improbably probable. Weave your plots well and reach into the hearts of your readers. Revise, tweak, resubmit, refresh to get things just right.
And enjoy every minute of it.