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What Are the Different Types of Realistic Fiction?

By H. Lo
Updated May 23, 2024
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The term “fiction” refers to narrative works that are made up, either in part or in whole, by their authors. Fiction can generally be separated by genres, one of which is realistic fiction, a piece of work that, while made up by its author, is rooted in characters and events that can actually happen in real life. There are a few ways to look at different types this fiction, as the genre can be defined or categorized in several ways. For example, a person might separate different works of realistic fiction by sub-genre, time period and issues or themes.

It is understandable that fiction can encompass multiple genres, meaning that it can have two or more genres that overlap with each other in one story. A work of realistic fiction, for example, can also hold elements of adventure or romance, so long as the piece of work still stays within the parameters of the genre’s definition. As such, it can be said that different types of realistic fiction include not only adventure and romance, but also humorous stories, mysteries and sports stories. Of course, the different types are not limited to only these genres, or sub-genres.

Time period also defines works of fiction, and so works of realistic fiction can be distinguished by the time period in which the author places the events that occur. Two general time periods are contemporary and historical. Contemporary fiction deals with characters and situations in the present day, or a few years into the past; historical fiction, on the other hand, takes place at some point in history. These two general time periods can be further broken down into a more specific time, such as a specific year or span of years. For example, a work of fiction that is both realistic and historical might take place during World War II.

Sometimes, when it comes to literature, realistic fiction is seen as synonymous with problem novels. Problem novels are works of literature that emerged around the late 1960s. These novels dealt with personal and social subject matters such as abuse, coming of age and death. Since there are a plethora of other issues or themes that might be addressed in problem novels, it is impossible to provide a complete list of them all — just a few other examples of issues include poverty, racism and sexual identity. Different works of realistic fiction can also be defined by the story’s central issue or theme.

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Discussion Comments

By ceilingcat — On Oct 07, 2011

@JessicaLynn - I like contemporary realistic fiction too. I feel like it must present a challenge to the author sometimes though.

For instance, will the book be "dated" in 20 years, or will the topics still be relevant? I think this is what separates classic books from the books everyone reads once and then forgets about. After all, most classics were contemporary realistic fiction at the time they were written. They only become classics with the passing of time!

By JessicaLynn — On Oct 06, 2011

@sherlock87 - I enjoy magical realism myself. In fact, Alice Hoffman is one of my favorite authors. You might know of her because of her book Practical Magic, which was made into a movie. Her books are set in the present, but they always have some kind of magical element to them that makes them a little extra-special.

Of course, I enjoy regular realistic fiction too. Sometimes it's nice to read about people who are "just like us" so to speak. It makes it easier to identify with the story somehow.

By afterall — On Oct 05, 2011

@sherlock87- I don't much like Twilight either, but you are right. It does have many of the characteristics of realistic fiction, aside from the vampires and werewolves in it.

I think that realistic fiction writing these days does need some element of mystery or weirdness to stand out though, not just from teen pop fiction but even from all that has come before.

By sherlock87 — On Oct 05, 2011

@whiteplane- I think what you and @tigers88 are talking about is called "magical realism". It does aspire to be different from what we generally call realism.

Magical realism is different from sci fi or fantasy in that the world in which they occur are usually much like our own, aside from a few basic premises.

While I don't think it's a great example of realistic fiction for children, or really fiction for children in general, Twilight sort of does this. In those books, the world is like ours except for the existence of vampires and werewolves.

There are better examples, though I can't think of them at the moment. I think magical realism is a great genre, though.

By whiteplane — On Oct 04, 2011

@tigers88 - Your post got me thinking about something that I am going to try and work through here on this message board. As you said, in realistic fiction fantastical things don't happen, the experience of the characters is supposed to seem reasonably close to our own.

But at the same time the story has to be compelling, it has to keep you turning the pages and it has to focus on an event that seems extraordinary enough to be worth telling. It can't just be about eating dinner and brushing your teeth and driving to work.

So the author of realistic fiction has to walk a fine line where their story must stay grounded, it can't take some Indiana Jones detour into an Inca Ruin or have aliens touch down all of a sudden. But it must still be engaging enough to grip the reader. I think that would be incredibly difficult as a writer. Having to limit yourself and then fighting against those limits. That's why I stick to Sci Fi only.

By tigers88 — On Oct 04, 2011

I read a great novel a few months back that I think is a good example of contemporary realistic fiction. It was Affliction by Russell Banks. I know that it was made into a movie about 10 years ago but I never saw it.

The novel is beautiful and thrilling and absolutely heartbreaking but it also feels so incredibly real, almost uncomfortably so. There is never a moment when a character acts in a way that feels less than real. The plot never swings in a direction that seems fantastical.

I think a lot of serious novels these days aspire for a kind of half realism in which they claim to take place in the world we all see and know but they involve people and places and events which are clearly inventions. The best realist fiction works like documentary, it is just a record of what happens. Everyone should check out Affliction.

By David09 — On Oct 04, 2011

@Mammmood - The characters of realistic fiction have to be embellished somewhat, I can’t argue that point. Good guys have to be really good, and bad guys have to be really bad, in my opinion. There isn’t a lot of room for nuances, complexities or shades of gray, unless the whole work is meant to be a character study.

I actually prefer the fictionalized versions of these characters. If I really wanted to know the truth, I’d read the real life version of the events.

By Mammmood — On Oct 03, 2011

@hamje32 - I think you raised a good point when you mentioned non-fiction prose. Sometimes I think that there is a fine line between contemporary realistic fiction and prose writing.

Indeed, I’ve read many non-fiction accounts of political events which were deliberately written as if they were stories, with all of the standard good guys, bad guys, rising action, denouement, etc.

This is standard practice, actually, if you want to write compelling narratives that sell books.

I enjoy reading contemporary realistic fiction, despite knowing a lot of the details in some cases in advance.

The fact is I still don’t know character motivations ahead of time, and that’s what drives a story and makes it readable. I also prefer reading stories that are based on real life events, because as the old saying goes, sometimes the truth is indeed stranger than fiction.

By MrMoody — On Oct 02, 2011

@hamje32 - I don’t know that realistic fiction would necessarily be easier. In some respects, it may actually be harder. The reason is that you have to shape the real life events into a decent story form; sometimes it works, and at other times it takes a little more effort.

Sometimes people complain about going to a movie that is “based on a true story,” only to come away a little disappointed because the movie varies too much from the actual real life events.

Screenwriters argue that they need significant creative license so that the story can fit within the constraints of the film medium, and I tend to agree.

Another problem is historical fiction; there you’re really bumping up against reader expectations, because the history may be common knowledge. Would you watch a film about Hitler in which Hitler didn’t die in the end, the way all bad guys should?

By hamje32 — On Oct 02, 2011

I’ve always wondered if realistic fiction books would be easier to write for a prospective novelist than general fiction books. After all, with realistic fiction, I would think the hard part is already done – coming up with a story idea.

You may have to do a little more research to glean out the details of the story but that shouldn’t be too hard. You already have a beginning, middle and end, and therefore can avoid some of the writer’s block that occasionally attacks fiction writers.

I haven’t written any fiction myself, so I can’t say for sure. The closest I ever got was writing expository non-fiction prose in college, which read a little like narrative literary fiction, but which was based on real life events. It was more the essay form in writing.

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