Is Fiction a Reflection of Real Life?
From time to time here I’m going to be writing about things I find most thrilling and most frustrating about writing. I say from time to time because it will have to be as time allows. I’m editing Darkness Follows and working against a tight deadline for my next book and a few other projects. Time is very precious right now.
Okay, let’s start off with a frustration. Here it is: fiction does not reflect real life. In fact, more times than not, if it does it won’t sell. Fiction reflects perceived life.
In fiction we’re constantly told the reader has to care about the characters, root for the protagonist. Characters need to be consistent and there needs to be an arc of development where the protagonist matures or learns something or grows a third ear or something. We’re also told that the resolution needs to be satisfying for the reader, that there can’t be too many loose ends remaining. Loose ends are untidy. I read reviews where critics use words like “implausible,” “unbelievable,” “impossible,” and “laughable.”
Does that sound like real life to you? I don’t know about you but events in my life don’t always have a happy ending and rarely do I get answers to all my questions. I’ve found that real people are mostly inconsistent and unpredictable, even to themselves. We all do things “out of character” and wind up crawling back to the one we hurt or disappointed with apologies to offer. And as for implausible and unbelievable . . . does anything in this world surprise you anymore? Every day I hear about something I would have thought to be impossible or, at best, improbable.
I’d love to write a story that has a tragic ending, where the lead character learns nothing and is doomed to repeat his mistakes over and over again, where there are no tidy answers at the end of the day, and the storyline is totally implausible. A story that reflects real life in all its ugliness and pain. But it would never sell. Especially in the CBA. Even if it had a message of hope hidden behind all the muck and mire.
I’m not stumping for a bookstore full of depressing stories, who would want to read that? I’m only saying that the realism in fiction is more times than not life as it is perceived, not as it is lived. And by they way, I realize there are plenty of happy endings in real life, endings where the guy really does get the girl or the child really is saved from the killer, endings where victims do get answers and there is some kind of resolution. I’m aware of that. Really. In fact, I’ve lived it plenty of times. But is that all our fiction should be about?
So how about it? Do you want fiction that reflects real life, as it is lived in the trenches? Or fiction that shows life as it is perceived?