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Monday, June 30, 2014

REALITY IN FICTION

No one likes a perfect character. That too-true-to-be-believed character no one can relate to. Same thing goes with the plot and story. The world-building exists to enhance a reader’s escape, and one wrong move can shake that suspended-disbelief and bring it all crashing down…

I own a black Chow bitch named Abby. She’s four years old, and a cute little knee-high puffball with sparkling eyes and a pompon tail and a sense of mischief a mile wide. She’s also a ferocious guard dog who objects to everyone who walks past our house and strenuously strives to eat any dog within sight. Her recall is nonexistent. She broke her collar once and it was “missile away” and she darn near killed the neighbor’s dog. She just got into another fight yesterday - but it was the other dog's fault. (It's chain broke & IT attacked HER.) The reality is, our beloved family pet doesn’t have an off-switch. 2000 years of “guard” flows in her veins, and she’d lay down her life for any of us without hesitation. But her instinct is pure “us” vs. “them.” It’s up to US to provide the judgment–and control to keep her from hurting anyone.

What the hell does that have to do with writing?

Owning a dog like that is acknowledging, embracing and ACCEPTING RESPONSIBILITY FOR both sides of the coin. Yin and Yang. Light and Dark. And the fictitious worlds we build with the craft of words runs with the same rules and limitations. Every hero needs a dark side. Every villain needs a virtue. Every power needs a weakness. In order to for a fictitious world to seem real, there have to be rules and limitations that MUST be followed. Even Superman had Kryptonite…



When I first started the Guardians of Light series, I had one book. Duality. It set the bar for all the others. It set the parameters for all the others that they HAD to follow.  Dara was a half-dragon fire mage. Dragons are the ultimate shapeshifters. Dara was half-human–couldn’t shift. Dragons are “allergic” to iron; it locks away their powers. When she’s poisoned by a demon’s iron chains, her powers are gone. She goes to the elves for help. But she needs a metal mage and they don’t have any. Metal mages are common in the dwarven kingdom, but the elves and dwarves aren’t exactly on speaking terms… Power has checks and balances. Fire vs water. Earth vs air. Elves have powers of self-healing, which uses up all their energy and reserves. Magical hazel sprites are great healers, but they’re bound to–and die with–their trees…

Every little thing has to have a plus and a minus. And you have to be consistent. The second you break your own rules, the reader loses that suspended-disbelief and snaps out of the story. And in a series it’s twice as critical. You have to keep notes. You have to keep the rules the same in Book Six as they were in Book One. People laugh at me when they see me reading my own books–some probably assume I’m being pretentious. But the truth is, my memory is TERRIBLE (just ask my kids). My “author copies” are full of highlighting and notes–like how dragon lines are matriarchal and the females possess more power than the males, or how only a family member can bind someone in service to the sea-goddess, Cilaniestra… (These came up in Book Three, Lycan Tides, and are now coming full circle back around in Book Six, God of Fyre Mountain.)

I’m constantly double-checking things like speech patterns and characters’ preferred mannerisms and exclamations… Characters can grow and evolve but they can’t change. Countries need to stay in the same place. (Shamar will always be NORTH of Arcadia.)  Even terminology needs a sense of reality–”Shamaru” means “native people of Shamar” while “Shamari” means “NOT of Shamar” or “foreigner.” One simple letter change can make a big difference. (My son’s studying French–he’ll vouch for the importance of nuance and subtlety!)

Bottom line is, there has to be REALITY IN FICTION. Only way for a reader to truly believe in the journey.

1 comment:

Fiona McGier said...

And if you think the readers won't notice, think again! I've quit a series because the author was just asking for TOO much suspension of belief! I can believe a woman is incredibly hot, but EVERY man who meets her MUST have her, and will gladly share her with other men, in the same bed, just to get a little piece of her? Puh-leeze! Or, wait a minute, wasn't he unable to do that before, and now, 2 books later, he can?

Authors, especially those who world-build, are like liars: they have to have good memories or the whole construct falls apart!