Reality is not all that it is cracked up to be. At the very best, it’s overrated. Perhaps this is why so many people try to improve reality or at least modify it in various ways. Today’s headlines give the examples of Charlie Sheen and Moammar Gadhafi. Both seem to march to the beat of a different drummer. Maybe we should say they march to the beat of a different accordion. (Side note: as happens far too often to me, Sheen is one of those entertainers who has brought me great pleasure – Major League and Hot Shots! come to mind. However, like Tom Cruise, Meg Ryan, etc., etc. he had to burst the bubble of illusion. Note to people in the entertainment industry: We LIKE the make-believe. Sharing the reality is like showing someone a jar that contains formalin and your gallstones. Some things are best left unshared.)
Actually reality isn’t all that bad, it’s just a little too, well, real.
Perhaps that’s I’ve been drawn to writing; in a story I can make reality whatever I wish. The trick is to show the story’s reality in a way that appeals to the reader as much as it appeals to the writer. Using other writers’ examples, look at Tolkien’s Middle Earth. In order to tell the tales, he not only had a back story, but created languages and histories for the various people who played a part. These were not one dimensional literary devices, they were three dimensional – actually four if you count the fact that they occupied virtual time beyond what was shown in the story.
The story that I’m working on now rewrites American history in a very big (and I personally think interesting) way. Playing what if in a story is wonderful! It’s the adult version of asking the metaphysically impossible hypothetical question of the teacher in high school!
Every real person has warts and defects; characters with whom we can identify have an appropriate level of imperfection as well. It’s kind of a “Not too tart, no too sweet” ratio. It probably compares favorably to how we perceive our friends. Our friends may actually have far more bumps and bad habits than we give them credit for. Since they are our friends we just ignore some so that they turn out “pretty not too bad” over all.
We like our characters the same way – flawed enough to resemble us but not so bad as to be obnoxious. People who are too perfect often discourage us as they make us aware of our own imperfections. We like friends and characters to feel familiar.
I don’t want to just focus on the writing aspect, though. By writing I find that I reflect on many things; many focus only on how the written world compares to this one. On the other hand I learn a lot by thinking about how the real world appears after experiencing writing.
So what have I learned? I guess in the story of this world, I’m one of those quirky, grossly imperfect, but hopefully interesting characters that aren’t the main focus, but who make the story interesting. That’s not a bad role to play.