Thursday, 7 January 2010

Real life and fiction

Fiction may be inspired by life, but it's far from playing by the same rules. Life is to fiction as a riding a penny farthing is to driving a lamborghini. It's bigger, brighter, more thrilling and you get there very much sooner.

It is most easy to see this on t.v. How many times have you seen a character sit down for a coffee or a meal only to rise again in moments as if this was perfectly normal? When in reality you know everyone in the place would be looking at them as if they were mad and their lack of nourishment would mean they would expire within a few weeks?

Characters in fiction eat fast, rarely sleep and certainly never sh- go to the toilet. A few shower, because that's apparently a very good place for them to have unique thoughts and it allows a little flesh to be shown/imaged.

And characters never travel from A to B. They depart and they arrive. The journey is only described if something happens along the way.

Coincidence is seen as lazy writing. Critics will mutter about plot threads not being woven tightly enough and the gods defend any new writer who sends material to the slush pile that can be seen as in any way baggy. And yet it's very real. If you think back over the past twenty four hours I bet you'll be able to come up with one minor coincidence and over the past month as least one major one. (Try it!)

Ironically, anti-coincidence - like my recently swapping my 4x4 for one of the most ecologically friendly cars on the planet and investing in my first decent pair of high heels for years just before the snow-storm came - would be fine to be used in a story. It would be seen as humorous and creating more obstacles for my character (which it has.)

This is what fiction is all about - characters vaulting or crashing into obstacles (literally or figuratively). In the west where life moves at an ever increasing pace, so our fiction has got faster and faster. Paragraphs are shorter on the page and scenes fleeting on the telly. I'm told people watch tv, text and surf the net at the same time. (It makes me wonder if the next stage of evolution will involve more hands.) As has been noted for some time our attention span is continually shrinking.

The golden rule in modern writing is stuff has to happen and it has to happen now! It also has to play by the rules of fictional life. These, as you will be gathering, are many, varied and illogical.

And yet all rules can be broken if you can do it in a way that shocks the reader. Shock being one of the most tantalizing enticements to bored readers. Fear and horror are very acceptable too. Although the whisper from the States is the next new vogue in publishing will be Angels as the general reader base is looking for a bit of cheering stuff. (Thank heavens)

If I try to make sense of this all the best I can offer is that when we tell someone of our day's events, we don't put in all the details. We highlight stuff and if we want to keep their attention we do our best to surprise, intrigue and perhaps even shock. We want to seem interesting and we want our fiction in the same flavor.