1. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Sociological Realism in Fiction

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Killer300, Jun 4, 2011.

    Okay, sorry for the fancy title, but two areas I think that people don't take into account when talking about realism of a story are the sociological aspects. I'm talking about politics, economics, psychology, and so on. These aspects though I would argue are more important to fleshing out a world than the physics of it, and is also ESSENTIAL for characters who have mental illness, the latter I'm talking about psychology obviously although others fields will affect that.

    Let me start by saying that I'm not saying that every story needs to have realistic sociological elements. However, if a story is trying to be, "hard," in the sense that it's trying to make the world as plausible as possible, this element is just as mandatory as the physics or the what have you. More importantly, for stories that want to heavily explore the setting, or the character personal beliefs about anything, should have a tight grasp of these subjects.

    For example, if a character is a Communist, well, what type? There are LOTS of types of Communists. Anarcho-Communists, Council Communists, Stalinists, Leninists, Trotskityes, Maoists, and so on. Also, the writer may end up coming up with something very different from communism. Also, one needs to realize what differentiates Communism from Socialism, and from Fascism. That last one may seem obvious, but actually, if one approaches the analysis a certain way, Stalinism is a "left-wing," form if you will of Fascism.

    Another example, dealing with psychology, is if a character has schizophrenia. Well, for one thing, there are many subtypes of schizophrenia, and whether it's even one mental illness has been put under debate. One needs to know the mental illness, especially since just because a character is mentally ill, doesn't mean you can have them do whatever the hell you want them to and it not be out of character ever. People with mental illness respond the same way over and over again to the same situation, which will appear irrational to us, but to them, is very rational for some reason.

    Now, I'm not saying anyone here is responsible for doing really badly with these subjects, and I'm not saying that they should conquer the story. My point is that they should be kept in mind, especially if a character is specifically political and/or has mental illness of any sort. I hope I didn't alienate anyone with any of this.
     
  2. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    (Just had to point out a few things there)

    I'm going to roll through and say that your post is a little too broad in generalisation of "fiction". This will be a lot more necessary in fantasy and sci-fi settings than others. Other genres have a lot more options on how prevalent they'd like society to be.

    I personally don't write with society in mind. What I'm saying is that it depends on the range and extent of the "world" in your fiction. One piece I wrote a while ago was set in a mental asylum. Society had nothing to do with it. The "world" or, rather, setting extended only to the walls of the main character's cell, and a couple of other rooms in the building (and there were two outside settings).

    So, really, it's understandable that people don't take sociological aspects into account. Realism in a story isn't dependent upon it unless the plot of the story needs to deal with it. A story about government will require some knowledge of politics, but that's not impossible. It's also about how you deal with it.

    You don't need to know the ins and outs of politics. Not really. If you want a political figure to be making a speech, you need to know the ins and outs of how people are swayed with speeches. You can read transcripts of Hitler's speeches, or those of MLK, or just watch your country's Parliament show (Question Time in Australia. Most countries have video of their parliament on TV, though).

    It's things like that that make the realism. It's definitely not knowledge of politics and sociology. Really, to most extents, this sort of knowledge will make filler material more interesting. In most general cases, it's going to detract from the plot and character development except in a few cases like mentally ill characters, et cetera. Still, you don't need to have an understanding of psychology to understand a schizophrenic/schizophrenia. You just need to have knowledge of schizophrenia and the ability to apply it well.
     
  3. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    Or you need to give the average reader the impression that you do have a knowledge of it. Of course, people who know better might riot...


    Anyhow, all of this information depends on the writer and the audience. I frankly don't think a book aimed at Middle School kids needs to show differences between Anarcho-Communists and Democratic Socialists or Socialists or what not... unless if it is an important plot point or the different is a core part of one of the major characters. If I'm reading and I come across a lower-class character, I probably won't care whether he's a upper-lower class character from a rural area or if he's a lower-lower class person from the city - unless, again, if it's an important plot point or if the difference is a core part of that major character's being.

    Ultimately, a story must have some balance of realism and handwaving, of course. Different writers prefer certain places upon the spectrum, and, well, if they tell a decent story, I don't think most people will care except for a few who know better - but those would only be a few.

    Also, sometimes, some writers really just don't know better. The average person probably doesn't know the difference between Leninism and Maoism (and even some people with political degrees may not know), so it won't mean anything to them.
     
  4. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    QFT.
    Especially the bolded.
     
  5. LaGs
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    LaGs Banned

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    Killer makes clear though that he's talking about sociological aspects in the context of a realistic story, and in that sense, he's right. In sci-fi or fantasy you have total license over what you can say and what you cannot. On the contrary, you can't feasibly write a realistic story without including the aspects of what makes it real. Obviously the author can give the impression that he knows what he's talking about, but the least he would have to do is go ahead and do a bit of research, which i think from your post here, you agree with.
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    So basically, the thread comes down to the recommendation, "Do your research."

    I'm sorry if it sounds like I'm trivializing the topic, but there are some widely applicable principles you just have to infuse into every aspect of your writing.

    New writers are always told, "Write what you know." The reason it is good advice is that if you can bring expertise you possess in some area into your story, that depth of knowledge will be seen and appreciated by the reader. Readers like to be informed as well as entertained.

    The converse of that advice is, "Know what you write." The result is the same, you present more depth to the reader and increase his or her interest, but it means you have to do your research, and do it well.
     
  7. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Well, let me say this to wrap up, sorry if this thread seemed pointless to anybody. Science fiction, unless it's a very soft type, should probably at least try to have a basic understanding of sociological elements at hand. The harder it's, the more needed. So really, this thread is mainly addressing those science fiction stories that think they think only need a understanding of the physics for example. As for fantasy settings, obviously much more leeway is given, although I think psychology should be studied if one wants to have eccentric characters.
    In many ways, this is a reminder for writers to their research, but also to try to explore the world their writing deeper. After all, a setting is more than just the rocks in the setting, it's the sociological elements of it. It also should be essential for studying characters that have complex sets of beliefs in relation to a world similar to ours, much less our own.

    Also, we live in a world of the Internet. So, fact checking, and research have now become much more mandatory. If I call someone a Communist who really isn't, I'll be called out on it, and many readers will be snapped out of the dream state we want them in.
     
  8. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    In the red...: Don't end a clause with a contraction.

    As for your note on Science Fiction, it doesn't need ANY understanding of physics unless it's actually BASED around physics. Physics, as its name suggests, has to do with the physical world. It has to do with matter and energy which is in every story, so are you going to suggest we all do masters degrees? No.
    Most science fiction, not all but most, is going to take a more technological road. It'll take a more sociological road, where knowledge of how society works WILL be needed. You probably still won't need to understand how economics and politics work, though. If you call a society democratic, we'll understand. If you say the economy is failing, we'll assume there's a reason.

    A lot of this sort of thing, unless it's necessary to define at length, can just be skimmed over. Really, I think you're just trying to overcomplicate the matter of writing something that is set in a place, which is pretty much every novel ever written.

    As for your note on Communism, I just have to say no. No, you will very likely NOT get called out on it. I mean, if you're going to call someone communist, it's probably because they seem like a communist. If they're not a communist, they're probably not going to seem like a communist, and will probably be unextraordinary in every way.
    Seriously, how many people do you think you'll ever meet who will be so far into the details of different kinds of communism that they'll have a go at you for labelling them in the wrong way?
    Nobody expects that kind of knowledge. To the masses there are capitalists and communists, especially so in the common American.

    Again, you're overcomplicating the matter of composition. All these things do not need to be studied unless your story specialises in that sort of knowledge. I write a lot of psychological fiction. I don't need to study psychology though, because when I say "psychological", I mean that the majority of it is based on a character's thoughts. It's not about how their mind works. It's simply about a train of thought and how those thoughts affect their actions.
     
  9. IfAnEchoDoesntAnswer
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    IfAnEchoDoesntAnswer Member

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    I'm confused -- you seem to conflate how realistic the story is with whether it's set in the real world or not. These variables are completely independent of each other.

    There are plenty of realistic stories set in fictitious worlds. There are plenty of unrealistic stories set in the "real" world. And vice versa.
     
  10. Declan
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    Declan Senior Member

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    1984 and The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night Time were especially good books because they paid a close attention to sociological detail, and were in fact themselves statements about society. My favorite books are ones that say something about society- books with a purpose that go way beyond just telling a good story.
    1984 is an exercise in sociolinguistics too.
    Sorry if I missed the point, I'm just stating that I believe sociological factors are important in literature.
     
  11. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    So, are you talking about sociology or not? It doesn't sound like it. Sociology is a fairly broad social science, but it isn't the sum total of all social sciences. Many of the novels I have enjoyed the most addressed issues that are studied by sociologists, and many of them were written even before there was an organized discipline called sociology. I would argue that any quality fiction with any kind of depth, regardless of genre, addresses sociological factors.

    Maybe, but oftentimes not. It depends on the nature of what you are writing. I can think of several works in which the physical world was of utmost importance.

    Okay, so now you mean psychology, not sociology. For characters with mental illness. Not earth-shattering.

    Has anyone on this board argued otherwise? Really, this does seem like a case of stating the painfully obvious.

    So, now we've hopped over to Political Science. Unless you're writing a political novel in which the struggles among competing communist groups is a central theme, I would think that most of these subgroups would be completely irrelevant to most readers.

    While the extremes at either end of the political spectrum have, in practice, resulted in repressive regimes that have as a common thread the denial of personal freedom, in underlying theory and philosophy this just isn't so.
     
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  12. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Umm, actually, Socialism, and Communism for that matter, don't have to be totalitarian. The only form of totalitarian communism, idealogically speaking, is Stalinism. Socialism, well... isn't totalitarian. It perhaps as elements of it when done poorly, however it doesn't have to be. I'm not saying these ideas are great automatically, but saying they are dictatorial automatically is a gross simplification that is one of the things I'm trying to correct here.

    As for the reader, it depends. The average reader now these days is much more cynical than a reader in the past. Average American perhaps wouldn't care as much, but someone in Russia or Europe will more, simply because political background there is different. Libertarian, for example, has a completely different meaning in Europe, where it actually many times means Socialist Libertarian, than here in the U.S.

    Also, when to psychology, it DOES matter that's well defined. Readers can be, if they are a part of that subgroup especially, be very offended by any innaccuries there. However, I think most of us probably know that by now, so I'm just repeating things. I'm not trying to start a fight, or to annoy people, I'm just stating this.

    (Sorry about sociological, I probably should've said social sciences.)
     
  13. Unlucky#7
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    Unlucky#7 Member

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    Well if people completely come up with their own world, their own diseases, their own language, everything (however rare that may be), they have liberty over pretty much everything that happens.
    But I agree, when it comes down to trying to make it as realistic as possible, research and checking your facts is the best thing to do. Now-a-days so many controversies come up with books that aren't "correct" in some way. And even though it's fiction, can offend many people. And I mean, if you don't want to go through the work of researching and just want to have fun with your writing, by all means write what you want. But I suggest if you want to get it published, make sure you go back and edit with research and facts in mind. One of the main reasons I still haven't started by story is because I want to get all the regional and biological aspects of it correct and as realistic as I can since it takes place in our time and world - even though it is sci-fi/fantasy.
     
  14. IfAnEchoDoesntAnswer
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    IfAnEchoDoesntAnswer Member

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    Actually, a realistic fictitious world can sometimes require more research than setting things in real-world time and place (or in a world based very closely on a real-world time and place) -- at least if one wants to make it both substantially different from our own world and self-consistent with elements that fit together well and have a reason for being there.
     
  15. Unlucky#7
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    Well, yeah, that's why I said pretty much. I mean, of course they're going to have to make sure everything makes sense and fits well together. I just mean they have the freedom to create their own world and physics without much regard to the real world. For example, if they make someone "crazy" in their world and invent a disorder, they can choose to make that disorder into whatever they want and call it whatever they please. They don't have to research a real disorder and make sure their character acts in accordance. They mainly just have to make sure that character acts as any person would with the "disorder" they have created.
     
  16. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Did I say anything about Socialism? Anything at all? And, did I say that communism HAD to be totalitarian? No, I said that in practice, communist regimes had been totalitarian.

    And even in that form, it is quite different from the ideology of fascism.

    Congratulations on correcting something I never said.

    Yes, but even they would likely only care if it was relevant to the story, which was my point.
     
  17. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Wow, sorry. I was just saying that for anyone else interested, in advance. Wow.*holds hands up* Okay, this thread was a bad idea, partially because I didn't present this very well. Sorry to anyone who got annoyed with it.
     
  18. Ashrynn
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    Ashrynn Active Member

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    What if I were to write a character who called themself a communist and yet knew nothing of communism other than: "What belongs to one, belongs to all"

    Would I have to define them as a communist or could I define them as someone wanting to rebel against the U.S. government without any clear or percise reasoning for it?

    I think it's more important to to figure out why the character identifies themself as a communist rather than telling the reader what "type" they are as the reader(in most cases) probably doesn't care outside of the word "communist".
     
  19. Killer300
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    Killer300 Active Member

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    Interesting point. Well, I'll leave that up to the writer, although something to keep in mind is that if the character devles into the ideal then the writer will have some research ahead.
     

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