Recently, one of my Facebook friends posed the question: Is Facebook real life? I didn’t stick around for all of the comments, but the general view seemed to be that it’s as real as you make it. As I commented, some people invest themselves so deeply in it that it becomes real life to them—or it takes the place of real life. The point, either way, is that life is what we make it.
This isn’t another Facebook rant (for a good one, look back a few entries). I just want to make the point that life is subjective. Many people have pointed out that life is lived more on the inside than the outside; more in the mind and heart than in the actions. I find that it’s true for me as well—but I may be a little biased; as a writer, after all, I specialize in fiction and fantasies.
When you write fiction, you’re taking a story that’s false, and you’re trying to make it real to someone. You want to make it real to yourself first, and then to your readers; I wouldn’t presume to speak for other writers, but I find that I can’t tell a character’s story until I’ve lived in his world for awhile. Then, when I’m able to see through his (or her) eyes, I can make you believe his story…I can tell it believably. The character becomes real to me, then to you; and then his story becomes real. That’s the goal in fiction—to take the unbelievable and make it believable.
When I started writing, many moons ago (another cliché, carefully hand-selected just for you, Cyndera ~Timewalkerauthor), I started at the same time to read up on the craft of writing. The first handbook on the writing process that I can remember was by, if I recall correctly, Isaac Asimov himself (I’ll have to verify; I was fourteen, and it was a different life). In it he threw out all sorts of marvelous (to me) terms, like “milieu” and “suspension of disbelief”, concepts I had never heard of; but they stuck with me, and resonated. I understood at once what he was saying, even though I had no idea how to achieve them in my own writing. Still, it defined the task for me—and I’m still in his debt. As an aside, I should say that no one outside the writing world talked like that; now I hear those things all the time, and it amazes me to think that high schoolers who DON’T have my particular interests, have the same grasp of these concepts. Score one for literature!
Suspension of disbelief, in particular, is vital. It’s what I’m trying to describe in the statements above. You know that my fiction isn’t real; in the real world, it might not even be plausible, especially if it’s science fiction or fantasy. But when the writing is good, you can set that disbelief aside, and convince yourself—for a brief time—that it is real, or at least that it could be.
Mr. Asimov’s book taught me the basics about this concept; but I really grasped it for myself later on. I grew up in church, under some very good teachers; and I remember a few who made the Bible become more than a book for me. Of course I already believed it was real and true—still do—but there’s a difference between being real and being realistic. For many people, it’s never realistic; it’s a history book, if even that. But I had teachers who told me how real life would have been—who made me picture how people would have walked and talked and felt in those long-ago days. They took those characters and changed them from cardboard cutouts into living, breathing people, each with their own hopes and dreams and plans and thoughts and motivations. David, the cunning and clever and upright shepherd-become-king, who also became an adulterer and murderer. Noah, who probably didn’t wear robes and herd sheep (think about it: a worldwide civilization of two thousand years’ history, whose people—geniuses and common people alike—lived hundreds of years. Do you REALLY think they weren’t advanced prior to the Flood?), but who was the last remnant of his ancestral faith. Esther, who decided that the needs of the many really did outweigh the needs of the few (Star Trek reference, yes, I am a nerd). Jesus, who might have been God, but still laughed and cried and got angry and made jokes and got tired and bled and died, just like us. My earliest motivation as a writer was to take those stories and those people, and make them as real to other people, and as believable, as they were to me.
I believe that real life is on the outside, too. I have family that I love, and friends that I love just as much. I have a job that needs my attention. I have bills to pay, and a lawn that will need mowing in a month or two when spring rolls around, and I have a pair of skunks living under my house that cause us no end of…um…amusement, yes, we’ll go with that. All of that is real life. But you, the real you, live on the inside—and that’s where I want to reach you. That’s real life too. That’s where my words are aimed.
Note: I stand corrected–the book I referred to was Orson Scott Card, not Isaac Asimov, and was titled “How To Write Science Fiction And Fantasy.” Copyright 1990. As an introductory volume, I highly recommend it. Available in an updated edition on Amazon.com)