Monday, June 10, 2013

Perception Versus Truth

As writers, we study real life and ask people questions about experiences they've had because we want to be able to write in a way that's accurate to reality. We don't want to break the suspension of disbelief. But the truth is, suspension of disbelief is more about what your audience is willing to believe rather than what the truth actually is.

You may know that certain things are true. For instance, even though I've never fired a gun, I know a few things about guns. Like that it's a bad idea to wield two guns at the same time. You aim with your eyes and human eyes weren't made to look in two directions at the same time. So using two guns to try to shoot with means you are going to miss your target every time and the guy with one gun is going to hit you instead. But there's a lot of movies where characters have two guns and use them to shoot a bunch of people. It's cool and most of the audience believes it, so even though it's not factual, it keeps making it into movies and books.

On the other hand, something that is true, if you try to write about it, an audience might not believe it. For instance, one of my favorite books is an autobiography written by Jaycee Dugard. She was kidnapped as a child and raped repeatedly growing up. She gave birth to her rapist's children and lived with him for years. Towards the end of her kidnapping, she was free to come and go from where she lived as she pleased, but she never ran away. In fact, she ran a business with her kidnappers and the only reason they were ever caught was because they turned themselves in.

I can see audiences groaning now. They'd say things like,"That's not realistic. Why wouldn't she just run away? Why didn't she turn them in?" Because they've never been in that situation before, they don't understand how a woman in that situation would be scared to run away because she wouldn't know where to go or where her family was. She had been brainwashed for years that she was trapped here and it's next to impossible on your own to break that mentality. She might even be afraid that the police wouldn't believe her. So even though it's a real thing, an audience wouldn't believe it.

And then there's the realities that are boring to write about, so sometimes authors fudge it. Like, I've always thought it was weird that in movies, they make book writing sound like authors sit around all day waiting for a dream or idea to come into their head and then once it does, they write out the whole novel in a couple of days. In reality, it's usually the opposite. We have so many ideas in our head and not enough time to write about them all. We spend most of our time sitting at a computer trying to keep up with our brains as our novels take more time than we'd like for us to finish them.

Writers have to write these scripts and it always made me wonder....Why are writers writing about being an author in an unrealistic way? Because it's boring. It's more interesting to write about an author experiencing things and dealing with their frustrations as they try to fight with their muse, then to write about them holed up in an office typing away at their computer for hours.

When what the audience would believe and what the truth actually is contradict, it can be hard as an author to know what to write.

So writing realistically is sometimes a bit too simplistic. Romances have very little in common with real life romance. Science fiction doesn't always show us what our future technology will be like. Sex isn't always as good as it is in erotica.

But the audience has to believe that it's real and that's what suspending disbelief is all about.


Martin Willoughby said...

'The difference between reality and fiction, is that fiction has to make sense'. I forget who said it, but what you've written backs it up a little.

T.J. said...

yup. Very true. Great blog :)

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