Writers Debate : Escapism vs Realism

Writers Debate: Escapism vs Realism.

Some folks acclaim that fantasy is overrated and that only narratives that mirror real life, add value in the literary world.

If we enjoy reading fantasies about wolves and alphas, wizard of oz etc instead of fiction that reminds us explicitly of the pain and hurts in our present life, we can be hounded for swaying on the banks of Escapism.

However if we swear by fictions that have plots which highlight social or personal events or issues that mirror contemporary life, such as falling in love, marriage, finding a job, divorce, alcoholism, etc and that depict our world and our society, we’re guilty of tossing around Realism.

How do we explore both in fiction?

Realistic fiction is a genre consisting of stories that could have actually occurred to people or animals in a believable setting. These stories resemble real life, and fictional characters within these stories react similarly to real people. Stories that are classified as realistic fiction have plots that highlight social or personal events or issues that mirror contemporary life, such as falling in love, marriage, finding a job, divorce, alcoholism, etc. They depict our world and our society.

Escapism on the other hand, is the tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.

Stories that affords us the opportunity of escaping our real world into other worlds is what Escapist fiction is all about. We want to know hat can happen in a world with an enchanted ring – Lord of the rings, or What can happens to any one who is pricked by a cursed needle – Maleficent ,and so on.

Their Characteristics.

Realistic fiction stories tend to take place in the present or recent past.
Characters are involved in events that could happen.
Characters live in places that could be or are real.
The characters seem like real people with real issues solved in a realistic way and so they say goodbye to stories containing vampires, werewolves, sorcerers, dragons, zombies, etc.

Where as, escapist fiction embraces more of the stories containing vampires, werewolves, sorcerers etc.
They allow us to escape into other worlds and share in the actions and feelings of characters as they progress through a story.
Characters in these escapist Fiction can reach into our hearts and minds by reflecting our own values, experiences, and dreams, letting us revel in fantasies or perceptions that we can relate to while the events portrayed in realistic fiction only conjure questions that we can face in everyday life, leaving behind possibilities of imagining other worlds.

Concrete evidences.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of both. First, realistic fiction. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green tells the story of 17-year-old Hazel, who has terminal cancer and grudgingly attends a cancer support group. There, she meets her friend Isaac and her love interest Augustus Waters.

This exemplifies realistic fiction because it is set in modern times, the characters are involved in a situation that is sadly not far from some people’s reality. The questions raised in the fiction is about love, death, and teenage struggles and they are the ones that many people ask themselves in real life.

Next, Escapist fiction.

Game of Thrones, is the first in an epic series about a land in which the seasons shift between periods of seemingly endless summer and seemingly endless winter. The story begins with the kingdom of Winterfell facing both external and internal dangers. Beyond her borders, the cold is returning, a dragon prince is scheming to win back his lost kingdom, and the eggs of supposedly long extinct dragons are beginning to hatch. Within Winterfell itself, war soon erupts when the king is murdered by a family grasping for unlawful power– John H. Riskind, The Washington Post.

The opposite appeal from realist fiction can be just as strong escapist fiction – a fiction that can immerse us in things beyond ourselves, help us understand different perspectives, and give us a chance to enjoy a vicarious thrill from that which we do not experience in our own lives.

These dimensions can be glorious, whether we’re reading the grand work of a top-selling author or putting our own imaginations down on paper.

Little Reminders.

Each reader has their own distinct mind’s eye, and this in itself can be magical. This is what it means to make characters personal by Kyle. But here comes the best part, the real debate about realism and escapism.

Neil Gaiman reminds us that escapist fiction helps people, though, oftentimes more than so-called literary fiction does. Being “realistic” is not the highest good that a story can do.

In his words,

‘If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldn’t you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with (and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real.”

Whereas,  Alain Robbe-Grillet points out in his nouveau roman heyday that, serious writers always “believe they are realists”.

Last words.

Should realism be held way above Escapism or but both should serve the same purpose – meeting readers needs at a particular time?

Let’s share our thoughts on Escapism vs Realism.


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