An Inside Look at Revision: Being Unrealistic in Fiction to Create a Feeling of Realism

Aubrey: Remnants of Transformation is available on Amazon and Smashwords. With every chapter, I posted notes about the process of revision.

Het Duet by Charles Van Beveren*
Chapter 13

Speaking of amnesia, one of the difficulties of writing a character with multiple questions/problems is trying to figure out which she would deal with first, which she would ignore, and which she would forget.

That is, what matters to the character from the character's perspective? And how long does something continue to matter? Would Aubrey be more concerned with Lord Simon's involvement or about being kidnapped? Would she care more about her claws and fangs or about her scars?

When done poorly, what matters to a character can get positively ridiculous. I've read (or tried to read) way too many chick-lit fantasy novels where the character is being chased by werewolves while worrying about her ghost boyfriend while trying to forget the trauma of being possessed by a evil wizard . . . but oh, she has time to shop for shoes, gab to her girlfriends on the phone, demand that her boyfriend buy her a gift for her birthday . . .


To make matters even more confusing, the chick-lit books are sort of right. Fact: what matters to people is kind of weird.

Despite Ellery Queen's penchant for the murdered victim's dying declaration/clue, what people say when they are actually dying is kind of, ah, benign (a nicer way of saying boring). Hence, the exchange in Sherlock:
Sherlock Holmes: If you were dying, if you'd been murdered, in your very last few seconds, what would you say?  
Dr. John Watson: "Please, God, let me live."  
Sherlock Holmes: Use your imagination!  
Dr. John Watson: I don't have to.
In extraordinary circumstances, people don't always think extraordinary thoughts or literary thoughts or theme-based thoughts or, really, anything that will help an English student write a clever essay based on a wowing central idea.

This is where fiction is NOT LIKE LIFE--and I include contemporary, journey-into-my-soul, so-called realistic dreck, which, despite what university writing programs try to tell you, is no more realistic than genre literature (and often a good deal less so). ALL WRITING is about choice. ALL WRITING, even supposed stream-of-consciousness stuff, carries linearity at its heart, even when the linear timeline is deliberately distorted.

If, as a fiction writer, I have Aubrey think more about dresses and shoes or, taking her personality into account, more about the latest article on fingerprinting than about her latest trauma, the story will come across as unrealistic even though that's how people think.

In other words, real life doesn't sound real on paper.

*Charles Van Beveren was a member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences--and I had to have Google translate Wikipedia from Dutch to English to find that out! This is another of the portraits I chose based on  the young woman's expression. Aubrey wants to understand herself better; I concentrated on finding portraits where inquiry, investigation, curiosity, and contemplation were the first words that leap to mind.

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