For a long time, my mentality as a writer was that my stories needed to be realistic through and through. While that idea is true for many areas in a novel (character personalities, hidden depths, secret agendas etc.), I've come to recognize the importance of stories being an escape for the reader.
I was reading about character growth and the author comments on the "most artificial thing" you can (and should) do to your characters: change them from the beginning of the novel to the end, transforming your character. This is a pretty standard tip in the writing world, so you can imagine it came as a little bit of a mind-bender. In real life, he argues, people don't change very much, especially after the developing years. For me, finding truth in that statement was a battle between character transformation (an element I knew good novels had) and this idea that novels must be realistic to the core.
The best way to explain how I came to realize that novels must have a bit of escapism is by quoting from a chapter of Alex Quick's 102 Ways to Write a Novel.
Characters, on the other hand, almost always change in some way. They go on a 'journey'; they realize their true role in life; they change their partners, professions allegiances, nationalities, sexualities. They are redeemed or destroyed. Why do we believe it?
The first reason is that we, as readers, want to believe that people can change, even if the evidence shows that they often can't. We have a hunger for change in our own lives. We want things to improve, want wrongs to be righted; we also wish, in our own lives, for the excitement of change, for the humdrum world we inhabit to fall away. It is a powerful element of the 'escapist' nature of novels that they show, plausibly, that change can and does happen in the lives of ordinary people.
The second reason we swallow so much change in novels is that change is an essential part of everything novels are. In a sense without change, there would be no novel.
Reading is largely an escape from our lives. That's what readers want, which is why writers can get away with making an ordinary man turn into a secret agent, two star-crossed lovers end up together and ultimately writing a character transformation. Although we poke fun at some escapism in novels (the cheesy endings and such) fudging some of the facts of life won't hurt your novel.
Reading: Breaking Point by Kristen Simmons
Listening: Chris Tomlin
P.S. Please vote in the poll. I'd really like to hear what everyone thinks!