Monday, August 23, 2010

Real Fiction

Joan: How far can a writer suspend reality in a fiction book? So-called magical realism can suspend reality so that it’s close to being a fable. In this genre, a writer could have a ghost who talks to the characters or an animal who shape-shifts. Or as in the book Like Water For Chocolate, the character Tito cooks a meal that has supernatural effects.

George: Now that's my kind of recipe. So in magical realism, anything can happen.

Joan: Well, realism still remains its biggest component. As in any fiction, a writer needs a believable plot, so while you could have an alligator grow wings and talk to a character from his sofa, it would not work to have a plot twist that wouldn't be logical.

George: So the details can be unbelievable, but not the story line?

Joan: For example, in real life, you could get on a plane and discover your long lost twin--who you had never met in person--in the seat next to you, or you could run into your neighbor in LA in a bank in NYC and find out you both happened to have an appointment at the same spa that afternoon. In fiction, however, life's strange coincidences and twists don't work as well because readers may feel like they’re being manipulated to further your plot in a way that is unbelievable.

George: Interesting problem. You can have a flying alligator but you can't meet your long lost twin in an airplane. So the basis of the problem is that meeting your twin accidentally is a rare occurrence in life, but a flying alligator is impossible. In other words, rare is manipulative in fiction; impossible is creative.

Joan: I think what is going on is that a good plot is always driven by the same elements even if there are variants in other elements in the story. For example, if the book was a science fiction novel, spaceships and future science would be themes but the plot would still have to be believable and if there were twists that manipulated the reader and made the plot contrived, it wouldn't work.

George: The opposite, of course, holds in non-fiction. If I write about meeting my twin on an airplane, it would be fascinating reading. If I write about flying alligators, I would be committed. Can you think of a published book that went wrong for you because of this?

Joan: The best published material that comes to mind is grade B horror, where a person--usually a beautiful woman--opens the door when the monster is clearly behind it. We the audience know that the monster is waiting for her ready to pounce. I have heard this type of character in such a contrived scene called TDTL--Too Dumb To Live. But a contrived plot that doesn't work smoothly, that has turns which are too obvious, and whose characters don't get it but should--all these make the characters look stupid, and for the reader it's just annoying.

George: I don't know. I'd be happy if a magical cookbook fell into my hands out of nowhere.