It’s part of why we hang out in fictional worlds. Because we want to be taken out of that reality. We want to be taken away from the everyday drag and whisked off into mystique and wonder. We want to be another person for a while. Someone with powers (or brains), a girly girl who looks good in a dress, or a man with the perfect amount of muscle tone.
But sometimes, there are things that happen in fiction (or rather, that don’t happen) whose lack reminds me it’s not real. And it’s not that I want to read about the boring things that happen, and I know they probably don’t push the story forward any (which is why they aren’t there) but I know that if I were in a fictional world, each one of these things would end up happening to me.
(For the record, there are definitely some books that have these. Nothing is ever 100%.)
1 – In Sickness and in Health
Why doesn’t the main character get sick? Aren’t there ever any plants or creatures or foods that aliens in sci-fi interact with that the human body has a bad reaction to? They get injured in battle or cursed by a dark force, but during their treks across scorching deserts and icy tundras, can’t they ever just catch a cold? I’m sure that would make an interesting issue to overcome—try sneezing in the middle of a sword fight. THAT should be in a book.
2 – Disease, Anyone?
You’d think this counts with sickness, but no. I’m talking about actual diseases. Like that promiscuous whore from the tavern, doesn’t she gift your all-too-willing characters with unending itching and burning sores? Can a human character who ends up in a magical world get cancer? And why doesn’t a bipolar person ever get ‘chosen’ for the grand quest to save the world? Or someone with crippling anxiety attacks that don’t turn out to be a secret ability for them to harness?
3 – For the Love of Cats
The behavior of cats. Okay, yes, a lot of books are getting better at this. But all too many fantasy cats are more than happy to follow around the main character like a loving child, waiting patiently for pets and belly rubs, climbing into their master’s arms and letting them hold them for full conversations with strangers. They are usually lying around lazily, purring. But they always hiss and bat at the villain, which of course the main character should have noticed and realized was a sign of their evil intentions. Where are the cats who decide that exactly four belly rubs are enough? Where are the finicky felines who scratch everything without a care in the world? What about the claw-happy kitties who climb their owner’s legs by digging in? Can’t a cat really love the villain? And how come there are no cats who repeatedly jump up on the medieval dinner table to steal food?
4 – Wildlife
When I go camping, I get attacked. Mosquitoes, fleas, ants, chiggers, you name it. I get covered in bites, itchy, and covered in more bites. Camping might be fun when you have bug spray and netting (and a good pair of boots!) but do all protagonists have perfect footwear when they are whisked off on their grand adventures? Surely at least one or two people would have a rough time of it, right? But no, books never mention the local wildlife and how it affects their trek. They show characters hunting deer but never getting bit by a snake. They pick berries but never come across a wasp nest. If you want a truly brave character I can relate to, give me someone who overcomes their fear of bees because they’re starving in the woods and honey is within reach.
5. Bad Hair Day
Hair. Hair hair hair. Every single character has perfect hair all the time. I want to see a princess kidnapped and her perfect braids messed up. I want her combing through her tangles with her fingers because the villain doesn’t happen to have the full contents of a beauty parlor in his bag. I want the handsome love interest to wake up with a cowlick that won’t stay down for half the day. And why doesn’t anyone’s hair get greasy on these long quests? Even just sitting at home, my hair gets oily after two days. But not the beautiful woman who wields a sword with the army. Her hair stays perfect through a war. And (what might be the one thing that gets me the most) why do all these badass ninja chicks have long flowing hair that they leave down for their fights and duels? With all those blades slicing through the hair, why don’t any of them chop off some of those stray locks? Teach those girls to tie back their hair before they go into battle.