We have an excellent professor at the university whose literature classes are always a hoot. Right now I’m taking one that prepares on writing my Master’s Thesis and almost on every class something he says kickstarts a thought-process that leads to me analyzing myself as an aspiring writer.
Many a class he says how it annoys him that people treat fictional characters as if they were real people. We were reading the Great Gatsby and I almost wanted to ask “why can’t these people just get along”? But then I remembered, again, that what a dumb question that was; I should’ve asked “why doesn’t the writer write them to get along?” This got me thinking about ‘fictionality’ of fiction.
Toni and I, as aspiring authors, are pretty adamant about making our fiction as realistic as possible. Sometimes it makes me wonder; are we nuts? This is fiction; why not write whatever pops into our heads as long as it sort of kind of makes sense? If we want to write “will they-won’t they” couple who’ll fight against their urges to sleep with one another for some vague reasons, why shouldn’t we? If we feel like writing a 50 kg female warrior with no particular super-powers, why couldn’t we? It’s fiction after all, it’s not a factual account of real events! They are not real people!
I’ll tell you why: the writer writes what is fun. Realism is fun to us, probably because it’s often so unfun and we’re twisted that way, who knows, but I’ve always liked a dollop of realism in a story — even if it’s about magic or monsters. If I can help it, the horse-back riding facts have to be right, the gun and fight facts, the scientific details, all squared away to the best of our abilities. And when those material things are done, there’s still the psychological side to the characters — even though they aren’t real people. But we treat them as they were, strive to make them psychologically plausible and labor not to sacrifice that plausibility to make the plot work. If we’re writing two hot single people, they better have plausible reasons not to sleep with one another if the plot is about not making them do it.
Then I’ve noticed some young writers as well as real authors find this obsession really quite, well, stupid (many do give us a slack). They get annoyed when we get nit-picky about their flighty, unrealistic accounts of violence. Female writers throw hissyfits because my female lead can’t fight an experienced man twice her size or if another is blind to the unspoken signals exchanged between a group of males. I’m labelled a chauvinist because I was trying to write realistically – even though they aren’t real people. This isn’t the way we write all our females. But some, yeah.
All this has started to make me think: are we not welcome to the world of literature and real authors because of our “obsession” for realism? Doesn’t that kind of literature have an audience? Or is it limited just to our immediate circle of friends?
Don’t people want to read about real people who aren’t real people? As for some reason I do. We do.
Katri (the female half of this writing outfit)