As the title indicates, this is more of a fun post – I’m not talking about demographic diversity in fiction this week. Rather, I’m here to point out several little elements of real life that don’t seem to make their way into our contemporary fiction very often, but would enhance the realism if included. With everything to keep track of in a story, it’s easy to forget about little realistic details at times, so to help with that I’ve written out a list of 5 things I’ve noticed so far.
- Allergies. So many people have them in real life, but how often do you read characters in fiction or other media that have them? The TV series Stargate: SG-1 has Daniel Jackson, who’s allergic to pretty much everything, and also Rodney McKay’s citrus fruit allergy, but outside of that, I at least don’t see many characters that have them. If our characters were totally realistic, more of them would be asking if restaurant food contains gluten, and sniffling whenever they walked outside in spring.
- Multiple characters with the same name. We tend to avoid that in stories because it would be confusing, but in reality, it happens all the time. There were three Hannahs and two Suzies in my friend group at one time. I’ve known two different Matts and four Calebs (five if you count Kaleb with a K). The fact that no two fictional characters in the same world ever seem to share a name is quite impressive actually. Of course, you have to keep characters straight in a reader’s head, so you may want to give at least one of them a nickname they go by, especially if the two characters interact with each other and realize the need to differentiate themselves to those around them.
- Glasses. This isn’t as big of a deal, because there are more characters that wear glasses, but still. As a glasses-wearer, I feel like the ratio between people in real life who wear glasses or contacts, and the fictional characters who do, isn’t quite one-to-one.
- Going to the bathroom. Okay, so that’s a little different than forgetting that real people have allergies. Real people also use the restroom though, and it spoils the story for me in a quiet way when a character gets locked in a closet for a full day and the reader is seemingly given all the details of their thoughts and actions, but the character never once thinks about having to go and apparently doesn’t change after they get out. It’s a subtle reminder that this world and these characters are fake, however cohesive the rest of the story is.
- General personal hygiene. Going off of point number four, how often do fictional characters brush their teeth or take a shower? You don’t have to describe their nightly routine if it doesn’t further the plot of course (and you can be too detailed as well), but a brief mention once in a while that a character does those things would be nice, if it fits into the story. I find it amusing how Severus Snape gets a lot of flak for his greasy hair, and yet about the only time anyone is said to bathe in the whole Harry Potter series is when Harry figures out the golden egg. They don’t have room to comment on Snape’s hygiene…
I do want to point out though, especially for the last two, that I’m not saying you should always include them. Whether you do or not depends on how detailed your story is. If you’re giving more of a broader overview of events, you probably don’t want to unless it’s relevant to the plot. It’s more when the story is detailed about the character’s other thoughts and actions as if we’re following them in real time that mentioning they made a quick bathroom trip would make sense.
If you write speculative fiction, then not all of these may apply. As the author, you could just decide that a certain fantasy race doesn’t have allergies or bad eyesight. If you write contemporary though, they’re something to be aware of. And hey, depending on how you want to represent your fantasy characters, you might still want to include these elements.
As always, if you think of more, feel free to drop them in the comments!