How much is too much? And the corollary, when does the lack of realistic character action, or reaction, send a story into a tailspin of WTF?
Some background: I recently read a story which I loved, even though there was one element that kind of struck me as unrealistic. I let it go, because the rest of the story really appealed to me. I also wrote a story recently that a friend beta'd and commented that the main conflict the character had was unrealistic and squicky. That's fine. Everyone is entitled to their squicks. She also had issues with the story I read and liked. Again, she likes what she likes, I like what I like, and we often have to agree to disagree, usually with her wandering off shaking her head at my wilful blindness to the reality of life. She's not the only one who has that reaction to me and my stubborn ways. Like Popey, I yam what I yam. I make no apologies.
So. Here's what I'm wondering. When you pick up a romance, and it doesn't matter here what you read, be it het, gay, BDSM, whatever your poison, what do you expect? Do you want the gritty reality of the real world? I'll give a bit of context:
A college boy meets a man, the man takes serious, cruel advantage of his innocence and his inexperience in D/s relationships and severely damages his ability to ever trust anyone again. Boy leaves man, even goes so far as to put man behind bars, and tries to move on with his life. Then he meets another man, a too-good-to-be-true man, and falls, head over heels, despite his reservations. It's been a few years, he wants to put his past behind him and try again.
Here's where the reality check comes in. How far should this story go? How much reality do you want at this point? This young man has been horribly hurt, physically, (though that's long healed), mentally, and emotionally. Realistically, there's little chance he'll ever have a truly normal relationship in his life. But do we really want that much reality? Or do we want him to live Happily Ever After?
In the above example, I chose to give him a probable happy outcome. (Better) My reason? Simple. There are enough unhappy endings in the world, and this is a story. Why would I chose to make a make-believe world that is no better than the one I live in?
Which leads me to another question: Is it ok to "ignore" such problems in the world as unsafe sex, homophobia (in my genre), dangerous situations like women accepting help from a man? Let's face it, we all know, in the real world, none of us would hop in a man's car and accept a ride home if we just met him. But in the world of romantic fiction, can we get away with pretending the world is a slightly better place than it really is?
Some would say two men walking down the street holding hands, or a woman giving a man she just met too much information about herself, are just asking for trouble, and in the real world, it would never happen. Because of that, such situations in stories just yank them right out of the tale and send them on their way to the next book.
I would say phooey. Sometimes, I just want a world where condoms aren't necessary, where a man actually wants to help and not harm, and where no one bats an eye no matter who's hand you're holding.
What do you say?