Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Reality? Really?

I received (another) rejection in the mail today. It comes at a bad time emotionally, but I remind myself of what I've learned in sales, which is the same thing Ann Hyman wrote about in the July/August issue of Writers' Journal. That is, every rejection is one step closer to an acceptance. Maybe I'll write more about that when I'm not feeling so...well, rejected.

Yesterday my husband and I went to see Knight and Day for our anniversary. It was a great flick, highly enjoyable and fast-paced, and completely unbelievable. It got me thinking more about a topic that's been on my mind lately. The nature of reality.

I'm not talking about quantum physics or anything here. What I am talking about is the reality we each experience every day, as well as the reality we portray through our writing. Every person's reality is different. The real difficulty, of course, is to portray--communicate, establish, get across--your reality in a way that is meaningful and comprehensible to your audience.

When I was in college, my boyfriend at the time came to visit me in Eastern Oregon for a week in August. He is Japanese, as in actually from Japan, so let's just say there was some culture shock. While he was here we went to a nearby American Indian art gallery. He stopped me in front of a certain painting. I don't remember the whole painting, but I remember it showed a treeless horizon, a brown slash of hill cutting across a flat blue sky. It was an accurate artistic representation of landscapes I've seen hundreds of times here in EO. Toppo, though, pointed to the painting and said, "Before I came here, that would have looked fake."

The reality he came from was not my reality. My everyday was his fake, my understood was his bizarre.

So what does this mean? Do we have to write not only about what we know, but also only about what our audience knows? Of course not! Talk about limiting your readership. What it points to, though, is the need to carry your readers into your reality with you.

I don't have Orson Scott Card's On Science Fiction and Fantasy (Writer's Digest Books) in front of me, more's the pity. It's packed in a box in storage somewhere. I do remember that he, and many other writers, emphasized the need to create a reality that your readers are willing to enter, to keep it consistent within itself and believable within its own context.

When I watched Knight and Day, I was willing to suspend disbelief and invest myself in the plot. Sure, James Bond and Superman combined had nothing on Roy Miller, but the plot pulled me in and made me accept it within it's own context. Tad Williams, a fantasy writer, wrote The War of the Flowers and made me believe in changelings and an industrialized version of Faery. In The Wild Road, Gabriel King showed a world in which animals, domestic and wild, traveled primal highways at super-normal speeds...and had me believing it so much, I checked my backyard for primal animal off ramps.

All this rambling is to say that, no matter what you write about, you have to take your audience with you. Everyone has different tastes. Some are willing to suspend disbelief more than others. Readers of speculative fiction make it a habit to suspend disbelief quite a lot, but all readers have to do it to some extent whenever they pick up another person's words. Whether you're a verbal artist painting a rural Oregon landscape or a horror writer scaring your readers with a megalaturtle, you have to pave enough of the road so they can follow you. It's not enough to say, "This is my reality; believe it." You have to make it real for them, too.

Easy, huh?

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