Could You Survive in the World You Created?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Obviously, this is for fiction writers. I'd say breathing is proof enough that one can survive a non-fic environment. ;-)

Fiction isn't just about life; it's about drama. Drama means conflict, and conflict means inflicting pain on those we've created or at least making them struggle to reach the finish line on the last page. And, since this is a commercial endeavor, said conflict must be a bit over the top.

Your average reader doesn't want mundane situations or the kinds of problems they could solve themselves by dinner time, at least not in fantasy, they don't. They want something out of the ordinary that makes them wonder if maybe you're the kind of person who would kill off the character they've come to love (hopefully!) before the dust clears. They want a thrill. And, they're just a tad on the bloodthirsty side when it comes to characters that can't actually bleed.

So, we as writers, throw everything we can think of at our creations: monsters, plagues, battles of wits with forces beyond their control. Right at the point that it seems they've surrendered to the revelation that they can't escape this strange, literary, reality show, the tension breaks and they find the way out.

But the question is -- could you do it? Could you play Dorothy in your own Oz?

If you woke up tomorrow as a citizen of whatever world you've created, could you survive the things your characters do (or don't do)? Are your characters smarter than you? Braver? More resourceful? Do they have skills you don't possess?

Sure, it's easy to know what to do if you're the MC. The MC's destiny is written out for you; all you have to do is put yourself through the paces. But what about those faceless people in the background? The ones your MC is responsible for saving if it's a hero quest or the best friend of a best friend if it's more contemporary?

The world I've created is literally light and dark. It's insular and oppressive for the characters who live in an almost constant state of fear that at any moment their world could shatter at their feet and the one piece of "normal" they have left will die with them. I'm not sure how long I could live like that.

I think we've all heard at one time or another that "self-insert" characters in fiction are (generally) poorly drawn. Self-insert, of course, referring to the tendency for new writers to make a thinly veiled version of their own personality, stick butterfly wings on it (or elf ears, vampire fangs, a really bad perm, whatever works for their world building) and drop that character in as the story's MC. The author gets so caught up in the character being liked by everyone and able to do everything there's no need for a story because Mary Sue/Gary Stu single-handedly removed all chance of failure, and therefore all tension.

But, are real life, ordinary people equipped to handle the pitfalls of fiction? We're pretty conditioned by the mundane, so after the initial adrenaline buzz fades, how long would it take for you to wind up a quivering puddle of tears on the ground begging for those ruby slippers to take you home?

4 Chiming In:

Matthew Rush said...

I would love to think I could survive in my fantastic world, but to be honest I probably couldn't. Unless I was one of the characters instead of being me that is ...

Terry Towery said...

Well, my book isn't a fantasy, so I'd say I *could* survive, although I certainly wouldn't want to go through what I put my MC through. It isn't the world in which my story is set (present day, present world),but rather the situation in which the characters find themselves that creates the problem.

That said, let's just say I'd be freaked out. :)

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

Not long. :) Although I'm guilty of needing to have happy endings for my MG characters, and not endanger them too much - too much Mom in me! :) The YA characters on the other hand - nope, they go through heck.

Charlene said...

Yes, yes of course!

No I'm totally fooling myself. In my world I've um, killed a large number of the general populace. Knowing myself I'd be one of those unlucky ones who didn't stand a chance.

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