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Characteristics of Good Realistic Fiction

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Apr 30, 2014

Mirroring life as some people experience it, realistic fiction deals with many complex problems and situations from understanding sexual orientation to dealing with family problems. At its core, a good realistic fiction novel is about people, their problems, and their challenges. The characters in the novel should be believable and their language and actions should be appropriate for the setting of the story and reflective of the culture and social class in which they live. An author writing about a gang in an urban setting has a responsibility to use appropriate words, slang, phrases, and dialects. However, while realism prevails, people are still considered with sensitivity; a good author is always aware of the fine line between stereotyping and realistic, objective writing. Although readers learn a lesson or a value such as being accountable for one’s actions, or accepting the cultural, physical, or sexual differences of other people, good realistic fiction novels do not dictate specific moral and ethical beliefs. Rather, they challenge readers to learn the importance of moral and ethical behavior by drawing their own conclusions after they consider the events and facts from their personal perspectives using their own moral and ethical judgments. Some realistic fiction is expected to include violence; in fact, the genre would be failing in its mission if some novels did not mirror the violence that many young people experience. However, violence should be used appropriately and to make a point—never just for sensationalism. To Aronson (2001), a good book “recognize[s] the depth of darkness within teenagers and yet also assume[s] that readers have the intelligence and the imagination to deal with ambiguity” (p. 120).

Due to the popularity of contemporary realistic fiction among young adults, many excellent books are published each year. Unfortunately, many others claim to be problem novels but lack the qualities that define good young adult literature. Considerations for Selecting Young Adult Literature: Contemporary Realistic Fiction lists some of the characteristics of good realistic fiction.

When selecting realistic fiction to use with reluctant young adult readers, you should also look for fast-paced books that begin with a hook to get the reader’s interest and that have a limited number of characters, flashbacks, or subplots. These books should focus on high-interest topics and real-life situations that will keep the reader’s interest. In the writing, look for familiar words and short sentences and paragraphs. A book for reluctant readers will ideally have visual appeal with an attractive cover, an easy-to-read typeface, and fewer than 200 pages in a paperback format (Jones, 1994).

Considerationsfor Selecting Young Adult Literature Contemporary Realistic Fiction

When evaluating a contemporary realistic fiction novel, ask:

  1. Are there engaging and true-to-life, well-rounded characters who are both wise and foolish while they are growing and changing?
  2. Is there an accurate reflection of the human condition and contemporary life without stereotyping?
  3. Is there a sensitivity to all people regardless of sex or sexual orientation, race, religion, age, socioeconomic level, social group, or culture?
  4. Does the plot appeal to young adults; address the challenges, hopes, and fears as well as the problems faced by contemporary adolescents; and offer hope for the future?
  5. Does the plot ask young adults to consider or reconsider their own values and beliefs, inspire without providing “handy resolutions” (Aronson, 2001, p. 119), and not talk down to readers or tell them what to think?
  6. Is the setting believable?
  7. Is there an appropriate treatment of violence that never glamorizes violence, records it more graphically than necessary, or includes it gratuitously?
  8. Does the language accurately reflect the characters as well as their educational status, social class, culture, and the place in which they live?
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