Fiction is full of impossible things: magic, international conspiracies, convoluted murder plots in sleepy little towns, Armageddon…but at what point does it become unbelievable?
I know I can accept pretty much anything if I’m introduced slowly. When I first started watching “Buffy”, I had no idea that by season 7 I’d be saying “they’ve averted their fifth apocalypse, and she’s died twice, but this time I’m really worried because they’re descending into the mouth of Hell, and she’s had tearful goodbyes with both her vampire boyfriends, including the one she killed and who came back and got his own show…”. Pretty crazy stuff, but I accept it because I was there for the journey.
As long as a book lets me know early on that there are monsters or whatnot, I’m prepared to go further. I don’t like being plunged into the deep end.
Whenever I deal with my family, it’s like being air-dropped into the middle of the pacific. My childhood was such a drama that I stopped telling the stories to my friends because I think they were starting to believe I’m someone with too much imagination (like a writer). My brother is one of the few people who knows it all–he was right there with me from the start. We share everything. So it was a shock when I call home for Mother’s Day and my mom answers using a different name (that wasn’t the shocking part–I didn’t even ask her what that was all about as I really don’t want to know), and she’s too busy to talk, so she puts my sister on the phone. My sister, relishing the chaos like some demonspawn, joyously tells me that she knows something bad about our brother but can’t tell. “I want to know,” I say. There is one more token protest before she spits out that he’s having heart problems, a hole in his valve, and the doctor says he can’t even climb ladders at work anymore (he does alot of that at work too).
The deep end alright. I hastily research the subject and learn there are medications to treat it and valve replacements with high success rates (although I’m worried about how good my brother’s insurance is). Armed with this information, I call him and immediately jump down his throat for not telling me. We had talked for hours on the weekend (he’s one of my best friends), and he hadn’t mentioned a word! With no way to hide it from me anymore, he becomes doom and gloom. He doesn’t want to change his career and lifestyle, yada yada, and I say he’d better because he has a daughter to raise and a family that cares for him.
The admonishments out of the way, I get all optimistic and supportive. There are tears and “I love you’s” then I hang up the phone, talk things over with my husband, then call up the computer repair people and deal with that drama (they’re going to replace it finally). Next day it’s my friend’s mammogram scare, my injured toe, antibiotics, an early meeting to decide the course of someone’s professional life… Sometimes you just want to scream “stop!” and order the whole world to take a break.
I would never put so many disjointed dramas into one story and one character’s life. It’s too confusing. A series, where you’ve had several books or tv episodes to build up the web of interactions and problems, is another matter, but even then you want your various storylines to intersect and form a greater theme.
A character can have dozens of different failed relationships, for example, but it should accomplish something or give insight into the protagonist. Why is he driving these people away? Is there a part of his psyche and upbringing that’s causing him to make bad choices? Is this his real problem? (aside from the bad guy and a nuclear bomb to diffuse or whatever)
It’s hard to see themes in fiction or real life (and some argue there aren’t any), but I believe it’s a writer’s job to find them, to choose the dramas that fit into a larger, cohesive story and make sense of it all.
As for my personal story, I’d like my main character to always be there for the people she cares about and never give up, overcoming all obstacles to be a published author and showing her beloved brother his name on the acknowledgments page. Love and dedication are the themes I want in my life.
What’s the main point of your story–either fictional or real? Do you think story is meant to reveal underlying themes and make sense of it all? Or, do we merely sample the chaos for entertainment, as a means to distract us from our own unsolvable dramas?
Thanks for reading! More posts on books, film, and writing can be found on my website at Lorel Clayton Author.