Realism

The first character in fiction to experience 'belonging to oneself' was Robinson Crusoe. There are similarities between Hegland's story and Defoe's novel, one of the earliest examples of modern fiction, written near the beginning of the eighteenth century.

As well as a new attention to self and surroundings, modern fiction writers aimed to position their story-worlds close to the common experience of living readers. This stylistic development is usually defined by the term realism. King also insists on 'sensory reality'. However strange, the world of the story must be made habitable, believable. If it were not, his peculiar horrors wouldn't be able to threaten or attack. In terms of technique, King, too, is a realist. Indeed it might be that all modern fiction requires a credible state of sensory reality, and that this is its difference from the world of religious allegory and seasonal myth whose authorship is often anonymous and whose main purpose doesn't require a world of credible illusions. This was a quality that myths and fables didn't even need to consider. Fiction in the modern world has to earn its right to credibility, and does so in a style that uses reality effects and constant researched reference to the actual. It has to convince by experience, not by authority or tradition. Story thereafter aims to give real experience a shape, to remind us constantly of ourselves as its potential heroes and heroines, victims and criminals, witnesses and participants. Instead of demons, dragons, prophets and saints, it is ourselves who inhabit the new world of story.

We will explore realism and its developments in other chapters on prose narrative. What are its implications for fiction writing, writing for children, writing autobiography? Should we think of a split between realism and fantasy or myth, or does all narrative share a common root? Were the events in Beowulf true? Was there a dragon? Did Jane Austen's Emma really believe Mr Knightly wanted to marry Harriet? Like a jury we use our sense of what evidence counts, even though we know for a fact there wasn't any Emma or Beowulf. These characters become real to us through a manner and style of presentation, through the rhythm of words, through our notions of what forms of story we can accept, through our own relationship with time. We have to believe that somehow their realness will be to our advantage, that we will, as a result, understand ourselves and our own shaping; that we will do this by hearing, moment by moment, how their experience shapes time.

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