How Much Is Too Much? Sometimes Life Is Stranger Than Fiction. Let’s Discuss.

Posted March 23, 2019 by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction in Let's Discuss / 30 Comments

Have you ever read a book and felt like there was a bit of issue overload? Like it dealt with just too many topics, and you started to wonder if it was all maybe a bit too much for one story? I definitely have. But I’ve also read books that handled multiple issues incredibly well, and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how, in real life, many of us deal with a lot. I mean, we don’t really get to say, “No, sorry, I’ve already had my fill of ‘issues’–it just isn’t believable that I would have one more.” Believable or not, life is what it is.

Take my family for instance: If I tried to write a book about my kids, people would read it and say, “This is so unrealistic. She just wanted to add in a bunch of diversity (or neurodiversity) for the sake of diversity.” And I honestly wouldn’t blame them. I don’t think I’d attempt to write my family into a book because we do not fit the “average”** mold and we would seem a little extreme. Let me give you a rundown:

  • My youngest is a black internationally-adopted child with ADHD and a cognitive disability (due to the fact that he had encephalitis as an infant).
  • My middle child suffers from anxiety. (Blessedly, it hasn’t been nearly as bad in recent years–she went through a really difficult time when she was younger and still has a harder time than most kids in social situations and with certain fears, but she’s doing really well these days).
  • My oldest is a transgender girl who is most likely on the spectrum. (She was diagnosed ADHD as a child and we were told that she’s probably on the spectrum and definitely had social skills issues–but we never went back to get an actual diagnosis. She would describe it as not feeling things the same way that others apparently do.) She’s also amazingly gifted, especially in math–at 16, she’s taking Calc 3 at our local community college.

I was also on medication for ADHD once upon a time, but didn’t stick with it. Add to that the fact that we’re (active and engaged) Christians, and you get an interesting mix, to say the least.

And that’s just my immediate family. (I also had a cousin who was blind and schizophrenic, another cousin who died of AIDS, an uncle who is Deaf, a brother with spina bifida, family members with addictions and depression, and more …) Let’s just say a book about my family would be too packed with “issues” to feel reasonable.

And my family isn’t the only one. Pretty much every family I know would tick more than one issue box in their family checklist. Just looking at rates of things like ADHD, autism, learning disorders and mental health issues–they’ve all been going up in recent years (or at least they’re being diagnosed more). Add topics like disability, race, etc. and you’d be hard-pressed to find a kid who can’t relate to diverse situations being represented in books.

Anyway, it just made me realize that we shouldn’t necessarily be quick to jump to the idea that a book is unrealistic if the characters are dealing with a lot of issues or if one character has several “differences.” The important thing is how well those issues are all handled within the book (and accepting that some differences might be seen as a fact of life and not addressed at all except that they’re there). Sure, a book that tackles too many topics might not do justice to all of them. But when a book handles many issues well … it might be a whole lot more realistic than we realize.

As for me, I’ve learned to check my expectations about what’s “normal” at the door.

How do you feel about books that tackle multiple issues? Would your family make for “realistic” reading or would readers roll their eyes at the characters in your life story? I want to know!


**(I apologize for my liberal use of quotation marks in this post. I realize it’s out of control.)


30 responses to “How Much Is Too Much? Sometimes Life Is Stranger Than Fiction. Let’s Discuss.

  1. I have read many books that were packed with issues, but the author tackled them so well, I never felt overwhelmed by them. So, I think it’s in the execution. There have been instances, where things seemed tacked on, but most authors weave it all into the story organically, and it’s seems realistic.

  2. Haha, my family is a giant mess. That’s one of the reasons I rarely talk about them on the blog. In fiction, my family would probably lead to eye-rolling and “Is that realistic?” I agree that how the author handles the issues is important. If an issue is fixed easily, or if none of the issues are examined in depth, I wonder why they’re in the book. I’ve read a few books where the characters have so many issues that everything feels very surface-level.

    • Glad I’m not the only one who has a sort of crazy family. 🙂
      I agree that when it comes to a lot of issues in a book, it certainly depends on how they’re handled. Sometimes issue overload can just feel like a bunch of stuff thrown in for the mere purpose of having more issues, but I think I’ll be a little less suspect of authors’ motivations now that I’ve done some thinking about the subject. Of course, that doesn’t excuse a book that skims over important topics and doesn’t do them justice.

  3. I love books that deal with various issues, but you’re right, it comes down to how well they are written. I don’t read books and think “that’s unrealistic” but I do sometimes think “that topic or issue wasn’t handled well, or addressed enough.” But my family would definitely not be classified as “normal” and if I included everything in my immediate – and extended – family, it would be a hot mess of a book. LOL


  4. This is REALLY true and I know something I have been guilty of complaining about in books. And like- often I think it’s okay to think that maybe there is too much therefore it isn’t being handled correctly, but not necessarily that it is unrealistic. Because you’re right- often there is so much happening in people’s lives, that of course it is realistic! Fabulous post, I am absolutely going to be more cognizant of this when I read!

    Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight recently posted: Reviews in a Minute: The Only-Partly Overdue!
    • Yeah, I have literally found myself thinking this. Like, oh, one more issue added into the book. But then I look at my own life and I just have to laugh at myself! But, for sure, it’s important for the issues to be handled well, which can’t always be done when there are too many of them. It’s a valid complaint.

      But I’ve also heard a lot of #OwnVoices authors complain when people say their stories aren’t realistic, when they’re written about their own personal situations, so it’s definitely a hurdle that people have to overcome.

  5. “No, sorry, I’ve already had my fill of ‘issues’–it just isn’t believable that I would have one more.” If only we could do that lol.

    I don’t mind when books include a lot of issues, as long as they include them well. Like you said, sometimes things are just included because they simply are, and they don’t need to be gone into in depth, but there is a fine line between that and just throwing things into a book for edginess or something, you know? But it’s definitely realistic that people have to deal with a lot of things all at once and real life has a lot of diversity!

  6. I think books that deal with a lot of issues are really great. I also think that when people say something’s “not realistic”, instead of looking towards what problems real people actually deal with, they look towards an idealized idea of everyday life and family.

    That’s why it’s so important when there are books that deal with “out of the box” type of issues. It shows the people that have those issues/struggles that they’re not the only ones, and that normal isn’t always what it seems.

  7. Tonyalee

    I’ve read books that are PACKED with things – and it feels overwhelming or unrealistic when it isn’t something I am familiar with, or if it’s not written “right”. I also think, all of us have some pretty BUSY and what others would call UNREALISTIC lives. I will write a book about my family one day. LOL

    I hate to say it, because nothing is really that far fetched or realistic, but sometimes it doesn’t feel authentic to us, ya know? If that’s the case, I just move on and not dwell on it.

    • Yes, for sure! There are so many times you see something happen and think that if you put it into a book it wouldn’t be believable at all. I used to think that when I was acting as well—every once in a while I’d run into a person and think that if I acted a character like them people would think I was a total caricature.

  8. Jen

    I’ve never really thought twice about a book for covering too many topics, especially since that’s just how so many peoples lives are. My family is huge on both my husband and my side, so growing up I’ve been around so much. The only thing I’ve ever contemplated is if it’s a realistic portrayal. Like PTSD, I’ve seen some books that definitely don’t do it justice. But that’s it. So I always try my hardest not to second guess the topics when I’m reading a book. ♥

  9. Such a hot button topic right now! And I agree, sometimes it feels as if they’re added just to say they have them. It’s a bit of a gripe I have with how they seem to be reimagining characters from books when they turn them into movies. Like I’m not pleased with a couple of changes in characters ethnicities or sexual preferences in the book After’s movie version. It’s not that I have a problem with that, it’s just I’m not sure how they’re going to work other things down the line if they continue with the rest of the books in the series for future movies. Oh well.

  10. Definitely true–I have enjoyed several books that others have complained about having too many issues. Like you said–hello, life? For some reason Gabi, a Girl In Pieces is coming to mind. I loved it. Then again, I recently did not love a middle grade novel because I felt like characters were really just added to check off diversity boxes. So I’ll join the chorus–it depends on how the author handles it.

    Wendy @ Falconer's Library recently posted: March in Review
  11. I actually don’t mind a lot of issues or unrealistic family problems in books because most families have a lot of issues or problems. When I started telling my online friends about what happens around my apartment complex I knew that they didn’t believe me until I started taking pictures and videos to prove it. Then I was told should write a book about it. lol It would be unbelievable without the proof, seriously. That’s why I just keep it to the Sunday post on my blog. So I don’t mind unbelievable family or life stories in books because a lot of us live with the unbelievable.

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