Two psychologists independently argue that romance novels are unrealistic and set their readers up for unhealthy relationships. Take Twilight, for instance. Bella falls for Edward because he’s preposterously good-looking (as she reminds us incessantly), tough (abusively so) and more exciting/unpredictable than the nice guys she knows. If Bella were your friend in real life, you’d probably beg her to stay away from this unhealthy relationship even if Edward weren’t 50+ years older. Do you think she’ll have the guts to walk away when Edward starts (keeps) abusing her? Hell no–she wasn’t even tough enough to walk away when he told her to.
I think that fiction authors of every sort frequently bend reality to make their stories more entertaining. Here are some other common examples.
1. Fictional dialogue is generally wittier and more concise than in real life. Most real-life conversations have a lot of idle chatter, but there’s less time to waste in a novel (usually ~80-90,000 words) or comic book (~22 pages).
2. Across the board, when a character lies, somebody will almost always find out. A perfectly-maintained lie is not as dramatic as dealing with the consequences of being found out.
3. By the end of the story, the main character will almost always know everything important. It’s very rare for, say, a detective to fail to solve the case even though it happens quite often in real life. (Half of U.S. murders go unsolved).
4. The story tends to revolve around the main characters and everybody else gets sidelined. For example, Harry Potter goes off on adventures and saves the world because nobody actually running Hogwarts seems to have any idea about the nefarious plots unfolding there each year. (Don’t even get me started on the Ministry of Magic). In contrast, I really liked how the TV show Dexter handled this–Dexter is a serial killer with a day job as a police lab tech. Instead of passively benefiting from incompetent authorities, his coworkers are competent enough to pose an obstacle, so he sabotages them to keep himself safe. For example, he frequently delays investigations by planting evidence to implicate plausible suspects.
4.1. Authority figures are useless, unless they’re the main characters. It wouldn’t be a very satisfying horror story if the victims could just call the police, right? So authority figures (like the police in any kind of story, parents and teachers in young adult fiction, the army in alien invasion stories, etc) will almost always be useless, antagonistic or unreachable. Outside of a police story, when was the last time the police actually solved a case on their own?
5. Cellphones fail surprisingly often, especially when it would short-circuit the plot. Count on the batteries to run out, the phone to get misplaced or stolen or damaged, the reception to fail, and/or something exotic like electronic jamming or magical interference. Alternately, perhaps the character never had a cellphone for financial or criminal reasons or the character has a working phone but does not call the police because he/she would also be implicated in illegal activity.
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