In today’s highly-educated society, it’s impossible for modern fiction authors to know more about any one subject than all of their readers, and this has resulted in the decline of realism in modern literature.
It’s no secret that modern mankind is able to comprehend at levels far beyond any other time in history, as the spread of education has reached further in our times than ever before throughout history.
Aristotle is unarguably one of the greatest minds the world has ever known, but there are at least a million people living today who know as much about the universe and mankind than he ever did.
This is not to say that any living person has his capacity to calculate and comprehend the natural and human world around him, but as far as his actual knowledge base, there are many people living today that know as much about the world we live in as Aristotle did.
As a result of these advancements in education, the modern reader of fiction knows as much, if not more, than the modern author they are reading and the subjects they write about.
This closing of the education gap results in a virtual chasm between the actual facts of life and a convincing level of realism in modern writing, and this is truer now than it has ever been before.
In the pursuit of realism, authors must depend on the factual details of everyday life to create characters and situations that reflect what they write about.
For instance, a novel about the insanity of a serial killer may draw upon the scientific details of psychological disorders.
However, in today’s society, a thousand psychologists and criminal investigators know more about the mental make-up of a serial killer than any author could hope to achieve, let alone having the years of experience dealing with such characters that would be needed to portray their nuances convincingly.
Sure, an author may still convincingly write a murder story that will entertain the reader and satisfy the needs of the story, but any number of readers could point out various flaws and improbabilities based on the facts they know to be true as a result of their experience and education.
This begs the question of whether it is necessary to accurately reflect the scientific facts of life in fiction, as it is after all a creative endeavor, but if the job of literary realism is to suspend the readers within the illusion of reality just enough to transcend that reality, then it is absolutely necessary that the writer not allow the details of the story to distract the reader from the events they portray.
It could just be that the pursuit of realism in fiction is a dying cause, given the blaring presence of multimedia on society and the decline of fiction in general as a commercially viable social medium, which is slowly merging into literary journalism and eventually may be known only as news.
However, the final sanctuary for the “uneducated” fiction writer may be emotional realism, which corresponds with an age-old adage of writing – write about what you know – even if you don’t know what you’re writing about.
Even when the facts of human existence aren’t universally known, the human experience is often universal, and that human experience may be the last lifeboat in the literary ocean for the modern author.
The modern author may not know everything, but if they write about what they feel, then even the most educated of readers will pretend to understand.
Article originally published by The MAG Zine