Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What You Can’t Do

Stories are about doing the stuff you can't do. Think about it. Children love stories about fantastic creatures that don't exist--elves, dragons, wizards--actually, I like those too. But consider some of the adult stories. Secret agents, spys, police detectives, all tracking down villians who are far worse than the average criminal. Not all books are that way. Some touch on romance. These too fit the trend. The men in this books are not like the men their readers have married, but like they wish their men were. These men do great things and talk of love, while real men only do stuff like go to work to earn a living and come home so tired they can barely find their way to the couch before they pass out. So women escape into these books and imagine that their men did the wonderful things the men in the books can do. They imagine what it would be like to have the fairytale romance of the book instead of the romance of the guy snoozing on the couch or watching the game.


There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as readers keep reality firmly in check. As writers, it tells us something about what we should aim for. We should aim for the dream, not reality. Often, we write a scene and we think, “That would never happen in real life.” But when we write it the way it would happen, the scene become bland. If we look at it the other way and ask what we wish could happen but probably wouldn’t, a dull scene comes alive.

Take a scene at a fast food place that isn’t. A customer is waiting in line and he can see the workers in the back just goofing off. In real life, what would probably happen is that he will either keep waiting, bawl someone out or simply walk out of the store. That makes a rather boring scene. What we would like to be able to do is jump behind the counter (yes, I said jump) and start barking orders with a megaphone and a whip. We can’t do that because someone would probably call the police, but in fiction we can do that and the police don’t have to be involved. No, it isn’t believable, but with the wonderful suspension of disbelief it can work.