The Surrealism Of Fiction   2 comments

(c) 2011 JD Rule

My long-suffering wife has, on more than one occasion, ‘suggested’ that I have been sleeping around.  To be more specific, the accusation is that my partners have been the female characters that I attempt to bring to life in my stories.  I would argue that, first off, it’s not true, but as a fallback position hold that even if it were true it would be very difficult to prove.  It’s not like she could catch me in flagrante, except maybe in her dreams.  I don’t think a jury would buy it, although I do respect my bride’s persuasive powers.

But this beggars the basic question:  What is the proper role of the author when creating a work of fiction?  Would making love with my characters actually be such a scurrilous transgression?

Let me provide a definition here.  “Fiction” is literary work of some kind, that presents an alternative reality that at the heart, is pure fabrication.  If what was being described were actually true, then it would be journalism.  This alternative reality, hopefully, exposes one or another of the fundamental truths about the human condition that journalism cannot.  Artaud said it well:  “We have the right to lie, but not about the heart of the matter.”  The purpose, then, is to expose “the heart of the matter” in such a way the reader is engaged and ultimately, ‘get’s it’.

It has been noted that if an author does not care deeply about their characters and the world they inhabit, then it is improbable that the reader will care either.  Whether the author intends to carry a philosophical viewpoint or just to take the reader on an escapist journey into a different land where other people’s problems come  to the fore, if the reader’s senses are not engaged with the plight of the character(s) then the work will be doomed: it will be unread and very likely unpublished.

My contention is this:  Whether the author is the proverbial “fly on the wall” commenting on  the world through omniscient eyes or has taken on a narrative voice within the story itself, is irrelevant in this discussion.  That is a Point Of View decision that has a profound effect on how the story is told, but has little to do with the author’s personal engagement within the work.

I am simply saying that to write effective fiction (perhaps the real fantasy is for me to include my own scribbling under that heading) the author must be a participant in  the story at some level.  This holds true regardless of genre; maybe the author hands the hero the sword or is perched in the cockpit, right behind the hero/pilot, as they navigate the treacherous rings of Taco-Re’.  Or perhaps  the author is sitting mournfully outside the closed bedroom door where the complaining bed reveals the action within, or better yet, is an active participant within that bed.

The author has no choice in this – they must be emotionally invested in the characters and their world.  Furthermore, I hold, if the author is not sufficiently close to where things are happening, then the reader never will be.

This is not an argument for First Person POV.  An author can be aloof and still write in the First.  It would be difficult, however, to imagine how a dispassionate Charlie Marlow would describe going up that river to fetch Kurtz.

With all due respect to my wife, I pose a question.  Let’s say I conjure up a female character who has a man (or even a woman, doesn’t matter) in her life, and that character is not alluring, sexually attractive and engaged, then what would that say about their partner?  Would that person be credible if they chose to live with a sexual dud, unless they fell into that category themselves?  There may be readers who identify with that kind of character; I’ll cede that market segment to others.

If, on the other hand, my leading lady is attractive and enjoys an occasional romp in the hay, would it be surprising that I (a self-described ‘flaming heterosexual’) might be lured, whether or not such liaison is licit (or even, in some dark corner of the fantasy world, somehow consummated)?  I suppose saying this may be a mea culpa, but if so am I confessing to a fictional crime.  And if I lusted after a dud, what would that say about my wife?

What do you think?  Do you ever make love with your characters?

 

Posted February 4, 2012 by JD Rule

2 responses to The Surrealism Of Fiction

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  1. Very good points, John. How, indeed, can one write passionately without passion?

    As for your last question, you are requesting a public confession. Let me just say, when writing Boarder, between Dolores, Joan and Sarah (and, okay, I had a thing for Carol, too), it’s amazing I had any energy left to write the novel.

  2. Effective writing IS exhausting. If you’re not sucked into the world you’ve created, then you really have no business trying to convince others they should go there. Having said that, there are also characters whose death the reader will cheer. “Bastard only got what was coming!” Does the author mourn their passing?

    By the same token, I have killed off characters that I truly loved. My wife will tell you how I slept when writing that part. Whether the death was sudden (Sarah) or prolonged (Jack), the effect is the same: the author dies along with them.

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