Thursday, September 17, 2015

How to avoid realism when writing, and why would you want to...

Hi, all. Lisa here today, and I'd like to talk about skirting reality for the sake of making your story more readable.

In writing, the goal is to replicate real life as closely as possible. "As possible" are the key words here. There are things we write about that we have to work around because to be totally realistic is to make it hard to read - dialect, sex, cursing, character voice, etc. Some ways of avoiding are easy, for instance, fading to black instead of having "on-screen" sex. Others are not quite so easy, but I have found a few tricks to skirt realism, and I'll share. I'd also like to know what you all do.

1. Everyone has heard that writing in a male's voice you can't use as much description. Generally speaking, the male mind just doesn't notice as many details as women. How I get around it is by using the exceptions that we have in real life. Yes, males don't normally notice all the details that women do, but there are exceptions, and for purposes of writing I have learned to pounce on those exceptions. When I write from a male's perspective, I give him a characteristic that would make him notice the details that I want to write - those details that make a scene complete. For one of my characters, I made him an artist of sorts. He drew- mainly sketching faces - so that allowed me to realistically include details that would have seemed out of character before. So, one way to skirt realism is to find real life exceptions and work under those.

2. Another point is language and/or dialect. One of my characters is Scottish. I loved that but he got way too slangy for readers to be able to understand sometimes. However, if any of you have watched Trainspotting, you know that their speech is almost indiscernible. To tone it down wouldn't be realistic...unless I could find an exception. My exception became the outside influences on him. I lightened up his slang a lot and blamed his lack of an abundance of "Scottishisms" on being around his American and British bandmates for three years.

3. Yet another character should have had really, really bad pottymouth. Since I always write first person, that would have transferred to his thoughts tenfold. But that would have been hard to read. However, the goal is still to be realistic, so what do you do? What I did was give him a strong guilty conscience. His dying grandmother told him he was a good boy, would always be a good boy. She is the only one to ever say anything quite so positive to him, so he tries to fulfill that idea. Don't get me wrong, he's still got strong language, but it's not overabundant.

So what are your tricks for skirting reality when reality doesn't transfer well onto paper?

Dan: I hadn't heard that one should use less description when writing a male voice. Then again, I am male, so I may have just failed to notice it *grin*. I'll admit, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the concept of avoiding realism. In science fiction and fantasy, realism is rarely the default. I'm usually coming at this from the other direction: trying to inject more verisimilitude into my writing.

At the same time, SF/F readers often demand more pace to a story than realism would allow. The classic example of this is the protagonist learning to fight with a sword. In reality, a farmer who's never fought with one would take years (if not decades) to achieve mastery at this. Yet we don't usually have that kind of time to spend on a training montage. Robert Jordan addressed this in a clever way: Rand al'Thor goes from shepherd to master swordsman rather quickly, but that's partly because he's inhabited by the soul of a thousand-year-old guy who was a true master.

I wish I'd thought of that.

Caitlin: I'm actually quite bad at this! I've been told that some of my new adult characters don't use words kids in college would use. Don't get me wrong, I don't just ignore that criticism, I consider it. But, in the end, I also don't think every college student sounds exactly alike. (Hell, I remember one girl in college asking me if I could assist her with "lodging" for a trip, and yet another asked me where I "summered" is full of all kinds!). So, basically, if something doesn't ring true to your CPs, you need to consider it, but you also don't need to adjust your characters to meet stereotypes.  FWIW, my husband often notices details I don't, and I'm supposed to be the writer  ;-).

When it comes to reality drastically interfering with the pace, you need to remember that your loyalty is to the story. Does smudging this reality a bit service the story, or is it just a lazy workaround that hurts the story? That should help guide you, methinks.

- Thanks, guys. What are your thoughts? Is finding ways to skirt reality a good or bad idea? In what ways to you work around the more mundane but necessary moments of real life in order to keep a good pace to the story?

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