This month’s blog chain title is sort of inevitable, Otherworldly talks about things beyond our ken, creatures from other worlds or dimensions. Ghosties, ghoulies and long leggity beasties. It can also refer to alien worlds or wyrd dimensions. There is a lot if scope in this topic.
A question I always ask myself is ‘how finely can you slice alternate dimensions?’ At what point can you say that a particular setting is ‘the real world’ rather than some alternate dimension where things are different?
The answer to that may seem easy – the ‘real world’ is where things happen exactly as they would in the real world. There are no supernatural elements, it is a contemporary setting and the writer has taken great pains to represent a realistic portrayal of the world as it is. This is certainly one possible argument and one which has a lot to support it. I imagine most people reading this will have no issues with this interpretation and to be honest, neither do I. However, I do have an alternative opinion I would like to present:
There no such thing as ‘reality’ in fiction.
Think about that for a while. Yes, writers have striven to represent reality in various different ways. We have had ever darker and grittier portrayals of various aspects of life, all with the aim of ‘showing things like they really are’. However, you have to ask how real that really is. Writers are first and foremost entertainers and entertainers have to entertain. As a result of this requirement, reality sometimes has to take a back seat or even be replaced by something claiming to be it. Just try to type ‘Gritty Realism’ into a Google images search and see what you get. The results may surprise you. It certainly gives an insight into what creative types beleive ‘realism’ is – guns, drugs and, bizarrely, Super Mario…
Douglas Adams put it rather well when he told us about Arthur Dent’s morning in one of his books… Readers do not want to hear about how a character brushes his teeth or how she combs her hair or any one of hundreds of minor acts everyone performs every day in the course of thier lives. They do not want that level of detail unless, and this is important, there is something unusual about that activity which may have a bearing on the plot. If, for example, a character picks up the wrong toothbrush and another character notices this and has paranoid thoughts about whether they really are who they claim to be.
Too much reality, therefore, is an impedence to entertainment. A writer should only be presenting to the reader the things that are relevant to the plot, interesting things that happen. The reality of many people is not interesting enough to portray in writing. Novels, films and TV shows use a ‘normal life’ as a contrast. Our hero begins the story in relative normalcy and then is quickly taken from there into whatever adventures the plot has in store for them. Ideally, you want to make these periods of normal life relatively short lest the reader gets bored waiting for the plot to happen and also insert the occasional little sting to hint at the things to come in order to keep them reading. Arthur Dent’s normal life lasts for approximately two paragraphs before a bulldozer tries to demolish his house and it is not many pages from there to a surreal conversation with Ford in the pub and teleportation onto one of the ships sent to destroy the earth.
And it does not end with sci fi and fantasy. Even in contemporary literature you never see a character undergoing a normal day. There is always some imperative to drive them forward such as a death in the family or a messy relationship which means that they are not undergoing the same sort of normal day the rest of us poor non-characters in literature endure. This is not only the case with literature but also with any narrative form such as TV, movies and theatre. Which leads me back to the original question – these ‘realistic portrayals’ are in fact nothing of the sort. Each universe presented is an alternate dimension to our ‘real’ one. The differences may be explicit (the earth being destroyed by an alien construction fleet) or subtle (the existence of fictional characters in a world otherwise identical to our own) but they are there. The presence of ‘gritty realism’ does not make your fictional world any more real and in fact may make the contrast ever more obvious by highlighting an issue such as drug abuse, rape or violence and exaggerating it for the purposes of entertainment.
So, it may be time to accept that while art may reflect life, it is always going to be a rather distorted reflection as we emphasise elements we consider to be ‘entertaining’ and devalue those which are considered mundane.
OK, chaps, this is a blog chain and so you have to do your duty by God, King and country by contributing to the other blogs on the list. If you don’t, then we will come round your house and kidnap you and put you in the Big Brother house or, worse, on X Factor. You can then experience all the Gritty Realism you like…
Participants and posts:
Ralph Pines: http://ralfast.wordpress.com (post link here)
randi.lee: http://emotionalnovel.blogspot.com (post link
Aranenvo: http://www.simonpclark.com (post link here)
pyrosama: http://matrix-hole.blogspot.com (post link here)
hilaryjacques: http://hillaryjacques.blogspot.com (post link here)
meowzbark: http://erlessard.wordpress.com (post link here)
slcboston: http://fleasof1000camels.blogspot.com (post link here)
areteus: https://lurkingmusings.wordpress.com (post link
bearilou: http://theglassopossum.wordpress.com (post link
dolores haze: http://dianedooley.wordpress.com (post link
SuzanneSeese: http://viewofsue.blogspot.com (post link here)
bmadsen: http://hospitaloflife.wordpress.com (post link here)
Adams: http://garridon.wordpress.com (post link here)
Alynza: http://www.alynzasmith.blogspot.com (post link here)
mk3: http://nonexistentbooks.wordpress.com (post link
BBBurke: http://awritersprogression.blogspot.com (post link
SRHowen: http://srhowen1.blogspot.com (post link here)
http://thegraypen.wordpress.com (post link
CJMichaels: http://christinajmichaels.blogspot.com (post link
wonderactivist: http://luciesmoker.wordpress.com (post link here)
http://carolsrandomness.blogspot.ca (post link
xcomplex: http://arielemerald.blogspot.com (post link
debranneelliot: http://www.debragrayelliott.blogspot.com (post link here)