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How Realistic Do You Need Your Fictional Characters?

This question is part of the GRAB(ook) Club, an online book club open to anyone and everyone.

There are two types of teen characters that seem to pop up in books and movies — the realistic, everyman who stands in for tons of kids that you could actually point out at your school (for instance, the students in Breakfast Club) and the kid-you-wish-you-were (for instance, the kids in John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars).  There is nothing realistic about them.  They are too witty to be actual people, too self-actualized, too lucky, too unlucky, and too much the creators of perfect movie-like moments.  This seems to be a running characteristic of John Green characters: they are the people you wish you were or you wish were your friends, therefore, it is a joy to hang out with them in paper form on the page.

Do you tend to gravitate towards books with realistic characters who remind you of people in your day-to-day world (or you could see being an actual person you might encounter one day) or characters who have almost super-human personalities that allow you to escape from all those regular people around you due to their cleverness?

After you answer my question, please click over to read the rest of the book club questions for The Fault in Our Stars.  You can get your own copy of The Fault in Our Stars by John Green at bookstores including Amazon.

15 comments

1 Pepper { 07.18.13 at 8:07 am }

I prefer realistic, though I definitely make exceptions. I honestly did not like The Fault Among Our Stars. I really, really wanted to but I just didn’t. I think a big part of it was the main characters. While I loved how witty they were and a lot of what they did, said, etc, it just didn’t ring true for me. I spent a lot of time with teenagers in my former life/career. I love teenagers and teen books and this one just didn’t do it for me. So, yes, I prefer the realistic teens even if they may be slightly less “likable” – just makes me like them more.

2 a { 07.18.13 at 8:35 am }

Realistic? Nah, I don’t care. Evocative? Yes, and I think these characters had that. There was a lot of emotion packed into this little book, and I don’t think you could do that with more realistic characters.

3 anexpatinuk { 07.18.13 at 9:23 am }

I really liked this book, the language and the characters. I guess it depends on the writing style if they need to be more realistic or not. I find books/movies that are based on a true story fascinating for example, so I guess I do prefer a more realistic approach.

4 Jessie { 07.18.13 at 12:05 pm }

I haven’t read the book yet, but in terms of my characters, I like ones that are fairly realistic but have a LOT of grit and determination.

5 Ana { 07.18.13 at 3:06 pm }

There needs to be some thread of realism—something to relate to—but the overall character can be as far-fetched or unrealistic as can be and I would still read! I’m a sucker for the excessively witty and self-possessed teen (a la Dawson’s Creek) and am loving reading my way through John Greene. The Fault in Our Stars was my favorite, hands down.

6 Amy Elaine { 07.18.13 at 3:27 pm }

That is an amazing question. I have never thought about this before, but I guess I prefer characters who are super-human! The wittier the better. I kind of fell in love with Gus. I’m not going to lie.

7 Lori Lavender Luz { 07.18.13 at 5:22 pm }

Realistic for me. That’s when the character ends up having a distinct voice in my head.

Hazel and Gus spoke in what I imagine John Green’s voice might sound like, one a little higher pitched than the other but both seemed to have the same source.

8 Chickenpig { 07.18.13 at 7:45 pm }

I hung out with some REALLY smart and witty kids in high school. I love John Green precisely because his characters sound like people I know. John Green went to a private High School and is pretty smart and sharp himself. I found the dialogue totally believable. I’m sure that Green modeled his characters after kids he went to school with.

9 St. Elsewhere { 07.19.13 at 3:44 am }

Before anything else, let me share that I have not read the book. So I am answering your question in general.

I prefer both kinds of characters. Sometimes, a mixture of the two. And you would see, that almost all ‘superhuman’ characters have an element of human mind and personality in them.

10 Melanie { 07.19.13 at 11:31 am }

I had not thought about this before. Now that I have, I will say I prefer more realistic. And maybe that is why I didn’t fall in love with this book as much as I thought I would. As others have. Hazel and Gus where pretty much perfect people, no personality flaws. And they seemed to be the same person. She even loved his shoot em up video games instead of being annoyed by them like any other teenage girl would.

11 Melanie { 07.19.13 at 11:35 am }

*Hazel and Gus were, not where

Thank you for this question, by the way, it made me think a lot about books (and movies for that matter) I’ve liked and disliked in the past.

12 Tiara { 07.22.13 at 7:53 am }

Since reading is escapism for me, I like my characters to be a good mix of everyday & super human…I can accept a well written unrealistic character vs. a badly written every person…I have to be able to relate in some way, either see myself in them or see something I wish I could be…

13 loribeth { 07.23.13 at 4:44 pm }

I think I most like to read about characters that I wish I knew — not necessarily ones that I feel I already know. I’ve thought about this a lot since you posted this question, and I think most of us really wouldn’t want to read about characters that were too realistic. For one thing, most real-life conversation is pretty banal. ;) I don’t know too many teenagers who go around quoting poetry that they know by heart… and yet I loved that Hazel did so in this book. Not too realistic, maybe, but it added to the book, in my opinion.

14 loribeth { 07.23.13 at 4:45 pm }

P.S. Even the “realistic” kids in The Breakfast Club had some conversations that I couldn’t imagine any kids I knew in real life having. Which doesn’t mean that I didn’t wish they did have them. Am I making sense here?

15 Elizabeth { 08.15.13 at 3:55 pm }

I haven’t read the book either. I would say realistic. Especially in terms of mental and emotional development (which there can be quite a range, but the last time I read A Wrinkle In Time I was having a hard time accepting or liking the Charles Wallace character). On the other hand, I love fantasy and sci-fi genres, so if the teen has, say, wings, or supernatural powers, that’s fine :-)

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