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Okay, so this is going to be more of a rant post, but hear me out. I hate day-in-the-life type novels. Realism grates at my nerves. My shoulders are creeping up to my ears as I type this.
There’s something about books like The Catcher in the Rye, The Old Man and the Sea, and The Great Gatsby that trigger the anxiety in my chest. It has something to do with the way the characters have no sense of direction or purpose. They just sort of drift along with the current, never so much as attempting not to drown. Heads bobbing like little logs caught in the current.
Realism requires a certain kind of finesse.
Let’s start with the double-edged sword that is imagery.
Realism can get real wordy sometimes. The Old Man and the Sea is a wonderfully detailed, picturesque story chalk full of symbolism. And it’s as dry and bone-picked as the fish carcass he drags on shore. The only thing you can do is wonder at the scenery and symbolism the whole time, BECAUSE NOTHING ELSE HAPPENS.
You can include beautiful imagery into an everyday story, but there has to be some kind of action taking place. The character should be making choices that actively move the story forward. I’m probably going to get a lot of hate for this post, but reeling in a fish for 100 pages does not a story make.
Realism and Purpose!
Arguably, The Catcher in the Rye has an active protagonist, a story arch, and a vague sense of direction. The symbolism is deep, the interpretations unending. But it lacks development.
I’m the first to acknowledge not all stories should have a happy ending, but Holden Caulfield learns nothing from his situation. Whether we care to admit it or not, every encounter we experience shapes who we are, for better or worse. At the end of this novel, Holden remains unchanged.
I believe in writing powerful stories that make you feel something, the good and the bad, but I also believe it’s our responsibility to leave the reader with something more. Whether it be a sense of direction, hope, or urgency, we should be leaving our readers changed in some small way. The Catcher in the Rye only leaves me frustrated and disappointed.
This could just be me, but I disliked every last character in The Great Gatsby. They were entitled, foolhardy, reproachable, and pretentious. It’s understandable that a character would have some of these flaws, but not all of the characters with all of the flaws. Realism should not be the epitome of a bad movie-esque frat party.
Even if you’re writing a satirical (or cynical) piece on human flaws, you should still have a handful of likeable or, at the very least, relatable characters. Now, I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who enjoyed, perhaps even envied, the characters for their lavish lives and reckless abandon. I’m just not one of them.
It’s okay to give your characters flaws. Realism is about making the story and the characters relatable. Even villains have redeeming qualities, but unlikable characters can kill your story. You’re reader should be left wanting more, not relieved when the story ends.
It’s admittedly been a few years since I’ve read any of these. I will ultimately reread them and post full reviews, but I honestly don’t expect to dislike them any less. Realism just isn’t for me.
I’m sure this is all very unpopular opinion. If so, let me know in the comments. Tell me if we share similar opinions or if I’m completely off my rocker. As always, keep it friendly.
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And lastly, thanks for letting me rant!
(But then quickly picked back up and passed on for discussion.)