Yes that’s a real term, and no I didn’t make it up.
K-Mart Reality is a funny term for something we all know very well: the inclusion of real-world name brands and products into your fictional setting to make your world more believable.
Nowadays people look at this stuff in movies and yell “product placement!” But I usually think these people are conspiracy nuts. While I know that product placement does clearly exist, sometimes it’s just the writers / set designers trying to make their story more real. Pepsi is everywhere, ergo if your world is noticeably devoid of Pepsi, is would seem weird.
**A note on the conspiracy nuts: I’ve actually had one claim that I got funding from Coke because I often mention that the girls of Coral Beach like drinking Cherry Coke… What the heck is wrong with these people?**
Regardless, K-Mart Realism is a good thing. It can suck your reader into a story and make your story real, and I employ it more and more.
Beyond that, using substitutes for real-world products can be very jarring and distracting for the reader. We’ve all read those futuristic novels set in the year 3000 where the characters are eating at an obvious McDonalds resteraunt that the author refuses to call McDonalds, and it just becomes irritating. Just call it McDonalds, you hippie. I can almost guarantee you that if fast food still exists in 3000 AD, so will McDonalds.
But I’m guilty of this myself, to a degree. When I first started publishing books in 2007 I was worried that if I mentioned certain products a giant lawyer foot would descend from the heavens and smash Engen Books to bits. But that’s just not the way it works. Like with product placement, retailers like getting their products out there.
Two examples: In the first Black Womb novel, Xander and Mike seem to be obsessed with a game called Marble Mutant Warriors… And just about every 20-something man out there understood that this was the Marvel Superheroes arcade game. I was worried Marvel would be pissed… But why would they have been? I’m showing people loving their games and characters.
Another example is in Roulette. Mandy Peterson is trying to get the gang to go to a movie. The movie playing is a triple feature, all three Defense Command movies.
Now, this is both a cover-up and a nod to my friend and college, Kenneth Tam. He writes a series of fictional memoirs called the Defense Command series, and even within the series, the events happening have been made into movies. So I thought that would be a fun nod. However it came from my not wanting to mention the Terminator franchise. That’s why she says the third movie sucks. Because Rise of the Machines sucked.
So anyway, this is my plea to you all that K-Mart reality is a good thing. Honestly and for true. Get out there and use it to make your world a more believable place, because if we buy into your world, any other madness you throw at us will be accepted.
Never Look Back