Writing Realism

Realism is, in the broadest literary sense, fidelity to actuality in its representation; a term loosely synonymous with verisimilitude; and in this sense it has been a significant element in almost every school ow writing. To give it more precise definition, however, one may limit it to the movement in the nineteenth century that was centered in the novel and dominant in France, England and America from roughly mid entry to the closing decade, when it was replaced by naturalism. In this sense realism defines a literary method and a particular range of subject matter. Along one axis realism opposes idealism; along another it opposes nominalism. Confusingly, the latter kind of realism, asserting that only ideas are ‘real,’ seems idealistic; whereas nominalism, asserting that ideas are only names, would seem to be what most people probably mean by “realistic.” (A Handbook to Literature)

(1) generally, the practice in literature, especially fiction and drama, of attempting to describe nature and life as they are without idealization and with attention to detail, especially the everyday life of ordinary people. See also verisimilitude. Just as notions of how life and nature differ widely across cultures and time periods, however, so do notions of what is “realistic.” Thus, there are many different kinds of realism. Psychological realism refers, broadly, to any literary attempt to accurately represent the workings of the human mind and, more specifically, to the practice of a particular group of late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century writers including Joseph Conrad, Henry James, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf, who developed the stream of consciousness technique of depicting the flow of thought. See also magic realism. (2) more narrowly and especially when capitalized, a mid- to late-nineteenth-century literary and artistic movement, mainly in the U.S. and Europe, that championed realism in the first, more general sense, rejected what its proponents saw as the elitism and idealism of earlier literature and art, and emphasized settings, situations, action, and (especially middle- and working-class) characters ignored or belittled in earlier literature and art. Writers associated with the movement include Gustave Flaubert and Emile Zola (in France), George Eliot and Thomas Hardy (in Britain), and Theodore Dreiser (in the United States).” (Norton)

Durational Realism

“It is quite possible to write a story that takes about twenty minutes to read and covers about twenty minutes of action (Jean Paul Sartre performed experiments in this durational realism), but no one has suggested such a correspondence as a fictional requirement.” (Writing Fiction)


A Handbook to Literature. William Harmon.

The Norton Anthology of World Literature: Literary TermsMartin Puchner, et al.

Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French & Ned Stuckey-French.

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