Keeping things realistic in your novel

This post is the twenty-first in a series about writing a novel. You can check out the list of past topics at the end of this post.

You are watching an action movie, and during the fight scene, the two sides shoot and shoot and shoot some more. And while you are engrossed in the action, somewhere in the back of your mind you are wondering “Shouldn’t they run out of bullets or at least need to reload?”

Just like watching that action scene momentarily jars you out of the story, many things in your novel can have the same effect on your reader. And there is nothing worse than reading and enjoying a book when you come across something that pulls you out of the story.

I’m going to give some examples. Many of them are based on fantasy writing situations but hopefully you can correlate them to something in your novel that you need to make sure is believable.


Magic use to be prevalent only in fantasy novels but more and more, magic shows up in other genres, including romance and suspense.  Magic can certainly enhance a story, but you need to make sure it is believable. You need to clearly define (at least to yourself) what can and cannot be done with magic. There must be limits on magic otherwise the person using magic would always win and there would be no conflict in your story. Magic cannot be the answer to everything. Or as Rumpelstiltskin in ABC’s Once Upon a Time said, “All magic comes with a price.”

There are countless ways to limit magic: power is drawn from magical lines through the ground, and if you aren’t near one then you have no magic; magic is based on knowing spells, so you are limited by your knowledge; magic makes a sound other sorcerers can hear and thus can find you, and the list goes on and on. Decide which rules you want to use and then make sure you stick to them in your story.


In a fantasy world, food is one area that can pull readers out of the story – or at least those readers paying attention.

Yes, this may be another world or time period. And, yes, food choices and eating habits may be different there. But everyone is familiar with food, so you should at least have the food choices make sense. Writers of fantasy novels too often ask us to believe that a roadside meal is cooked in the time it takes to water the horses or set up camp or that fresh fruit is available at all times – even the winter.

A quick search on the internet could spare these mistakes. Take rabbit stew for instance. A quick look reveals that in a modern kitchen, it takes two hours to cook and that doesn’t include prep time. So this isn’t practical for a roadside meal – or at least not a quick one. As with any camping trip, authors need to consider how all the supplies – food, tents, weapons, clothing – are going to be hauled. A lot fits in a car but you can carry less in your saddle bag.

Eating is such a big part of life that you can’t ignore it in your novel. Of course, you need not focus on it unless it advances the plot somehow such as a grain shortage. But do take the time to learn something about some of the foods that you mention so that you don’t jar the reader out of the story with something improbable.


Another thing I see in many novels is how fast it takes someone to get somewhere. Here again you need to be practical. You don’t want to have your character fly across the country in just four hours when it takes at least seven on a commercial airliner or travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in two hours when it takes six. People in New York will know how long it takes to get across town and will be surprised if your character does it super-fast. And with fantasy writing if your characters are walking long distances, riding a horse to another city, or traveling by wagon, please research how long this will take. (For more you can check out this post.)


To me it is a lot of the things that jar me out the story are part of the little details.

In one book I recently read, a woman won a lot of money. She spent quite a bit of it but supposedly still had millions to invest. I kept thinking that the numbers didn’t work out especially after she bought a large house and paid cash for it.

But it can also be something as simple as wearing a blue shirt one moment and a red one the next. Or have a character join a conversation when they are supposed to be elsewhere.

Being consistent with your details, whether they are about magic, food, travel or what someone is wearing is very important in allowing your reader to be immersed in your make-believe world. And when it comes to areas that you aren’t knowledgeable about (perhaps traveling a long distance on a horse), then make sure you do the research, so you can accurately portray the scene in your novel and not jar your reader out of the story with something as ridiculous as a gun that never runs out of bullets.

Previous topics

#1 – Deciding to write a novel – Writing Myths

#2 – Three areas to develop before starting to write a novel

#3 – Finding a Story Idea and How to Know if it “good enough”

#4 – Developing Characters for your Novel

#5 – Major characters? Minor Characters? Where does everyone fit in?

#6 – Developing the Setting for your Novel

#7 – The importance of developing conflict in your novel plot

#8 – To Outline or not to outline 

#9 – The importance of a story arc

#10 – The importance of tension and pace

#11 – Prologue and opening scenes

#12 – Beginning and ending scenes in a novel

#13 – The importance of dialogue…and a few tips on how to write it

#14 – Using Internal Dialogue in your novel

#15 – More dialogue tips and help with dialogue tags

#16 – Knowing and incorporating back story into your novel

#17 – Hinting at what is to come with foreshadowing

#18 – Tips for writing different scenes in your novel

#19 – Dealing with Writer’s Block

#20 – Killing a Character in your Novel

Setting Realistic Writing Goals

I have written on several different occasions about finding time to write. I am the mother of two young kids (ages 5 and 8) and am active in both their schools (soon to be just one school in August.) I find it hard sometimes to dedicate my time to writing, which is why setting a writing goal can be an effective way to ensure that I don’t just find time to write – I make time to write.

Setting aside time to write

Dictionary definition of focus on white page uid 1172467As hard as I have tried in the past two months to consistently set aside time to write, it just hasn’t happened for me. April and May were busy months with lots of extra activities as the school year came to a close. Unfortunately, I had only one or two days a week to work on my latest writing project. Even cutting down the amount of posting on my blog did not helped. And with summer break starting next week, I worry I won’t have a consistent amount of time to write.

What I and many other writers need to do is to set aside a block of uninterrupted writing time on a regular basis and stick to it. Of course having children, I don’t think the uninterrupted time will work while they are awake. Last summer, I did most of my writing early in the morning while everyone was still in bed. It helped to get my writing done first and then be able to focus on spending quality time with the kids. This will be my plan this summer too.

You may find evenings after everyone is in bed or lunch time at your office are times that work best for you. Don’t just find a few spare minutes here and there. Look for a set block of time that you can dedicate to nothing but writing. (See my post on avoiding time wasters.) 

Establishing your goals

Sometimes it isn’t enough to just set aside time to write and hope you are productive. To keep you on track with finishing (and ultimately publishing) your novel, you may want to set a writing goal.

If you are still in the planning stage, your goal may be to develop one characters a day or to create back story/history for your main character. If you are already writing, you may want to set a goal of a certain number of pages or words to write. Since you probably will not write the same amount each day, if you are setting a number of pages or words to have completed, consider setting your goal as a weekly goal rather than a daily one.

The main key to setting your goal is that it needs to be attainable, yet challenging. You want it to be something that you can actually reach. You don’t want to set a 25,000 word weekly goal if you can barely get 1000 written each day.

One of the other keys to establish a good goal is to be specific. You can’t just say I want to write each week. Give yourself something that is measurable whether it is how many hours you will dedicate to writing or a word or page count.

It helps to write down your goals and post them near your writing area. This can increase your motivation and remind you of your intentions. Or perhaps a reward system will keep you motivated. When you meet your goals, reward yourself by watching a movie, reading a book, eating ice cream or whatever you choose.

Hmmm….now it is time for me to set my own goals for this summer. I already have my dedicated writing time set. Now I just need a realistic word count to hit each week. As one who usually never watches my word count, this is harder than you think. But the good thing is – goals always can be changed.