Friday, 23 January 2009

Coffee Morning

Ooh, 'eck, running late on this - hope you haven't all been queuing up for your coffee and cake. Look on the bright side: it'll be time for wine/beer by the time I post this.

"You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you."
You see what I did there? It was a link, I tells ya. But I've been contemplating reality in writing and it's occurred to me that I spend far too much time wondering what would actually happen in real life before trying to merge it into a story. But that's not what writing is about. Is it?

I read books and watch films/dramas and exclaim "But that wouldn't happen!". And then someone, usually 12-year-old son, will kindly point out that "if people on telly only did what would really happen, it'd be really boring." I just don't know how I haven't noticed this before?

So... lovely Novel Racers... is reality overrated? Even in fantastical, sci-fi type writing, should a character have some sort of 'normality framework' in which to function? And as for contemporary writing, especially the chick-litty type, what then? How far do you blur the boundary between believability and fiction?

Wishing you all a happy, imaginative weekend.


B said...

Morning! I had a coffee yesterday and I only have one a week, so I'll get a hot water. And I'll enjoy it too! I'll have a cup of tea a bit later on.

To the question - isn't there room for balance here? Yes things have to be interesting enough to read, but if they are too unbelievable people will put the book down or switch off. It's a fine line to walk, and that's one of the reasons this writing malarky is so hard!

And sometimes, shouting at characters when they do the most ridiculous things is fun. It's certainly one of the reasons we still watch Friends on E4 every night. (well it's not for the great acting or surprising storylines, is it?) (also every time the bloody thing starts again, i tell the hubby we're not watching it this time. it only ever lasts a couple of weeks at most)

(And Jen, are you crazy, volunteering to do coffee morning on the day a TMA is due in? Just wondered.....?!)

KAREN said...

Blimey, this is early for me. I should be dashing off to work right now but still...Love the quote by the way.

I'm always guilty of injecting reality checks into my writing, in fact it's my biggest hurdle. "Fiction it up" is my war cry. As long as it's done in a believable way - even if it's an out-of-the-blue drive by shooting - and in-keeing with your characters' behaviour, then it's fine. Like you said, keeping it too real would be boring, and that's what I've been told in the past when I've submitted stuff (they're all too reasonable, where's the conflict??)

Good post :o) And good luck with the TMA!

Debs said...

I definately need a coffee, I'm frozen.

I suppose that we have to make our characters realistic, but also slightly larger than life, to make them more interesting. They should probably (note the 'think' and 'probably' there) do and say things that we wish we could do in real life.

Love the cartoon. Have a great weekend too.

Caroline said...


I'll have a glass of wine, seeing as you're offering. Were you offering?

For me, I like to read characters that I can relate to, that I can believe in, that are rounded and real. So, for me, reality is a must. But then they need a twist of something else, possibly fairy dust, to carry the story along...

I am also very glad that my real life isn't like the real lives of the characters I create :)

Actually, I was thinking about this the other day, considering the blogs being made into books. It's never the 'normal'everyday ones that are (even though people could relate to them) ... it's the ones with spice and interesting experiences (but still a central character/person who people can realate to). I guess a novel has to be like that too.


Lucy Diamond said...

Gawd, I think I might join you in a glass of wine, Caroline. I've had a really trying week, to put it politely!

Re reality/fiction, I try to make my characters and situations believable, but with some larger-than-life element to them, if that makes sense. Personally, I love reading about heroes/heroines doing stuff I just wouldn't dare to/dream of, so I think upping the ante and stretching reality where possible is a good thing as long as it's within a credible framework.
I do hate it when an author pushes it too far though and introduces ridiculous coincidences to tie up a plot - for me, that's the kiss of death and I find myself muttering "As if" like a teenager. But then that's just me.

Flowerpot said...

I could do witha glass of wine but it's only 9.30 and I'm off to interview an organic farmer so perhaps not! Sometimes reality is so much more unbelievable than fiction that if you put it into a novel no one would believe it. I think whatever happens, it has to be credible - ie the character must be credible, then it works. Otherwise, forget it.

Anonymous said...

Coffee for me please. I'll have some wine later, as part of my (slightly delayed) birthday celebrations.

A key phrase for this subject is "suspension of disbelief". It's not mine, I heard it somewhere else but can't remember where. If you're able to get the reader to suspend their disbelief, then you can make almost anything happen in a story. The trick is to achieve and maintain that suspension.

How realistic a novel should be probably depends, at least to some extent, on the genre. For example, a lot more "unrealistic" things may happen in a fantasy novel than in a gritty crime thriller or a romantic novel. In addition, more improbable events can occur, even in things like chick-lit, in order to achieve comedy.

There are probably aspects of being realistic common to all genres. For example, the way characters behave and react to each other. Even the most hardened Sci-Fi nut may have their disbelief unsuspended if the characters don't ring true.

I guess this is more of an art than a science, as, so I'm learning, are many aspects of fiction writing. Let's write some fantastical, weird and wonderful stories and situations. Then make them believable.

What is reality anyway? Some of the so-called "reality" TV shows are about as far from reality as I can imagine. If everyone in the world were like the people on Big Brother, then I would put in for a transfer to another planet.

I'm off to get another larger-than-life cup of coffee...

Lane said...

Morning all. Coffee please. I've been waiting outside this caf for hours:-)

I like it when unbelievable things happen to believable characters. I think there's a thin line though, with not how unbelievable the events are, but how believably the character deals with them. Does that make sense. Maybe another coffee.

Good luck with your TMA Jen, although I still don't know what that stands for.

B said...

TMA= Tutor Marked Assignment :o)

Which is what I'm working on right now... not commenting... I'm not here really....!

Clare Sudders said...

I too am dying to know what a TMA is! I haven't a clue. But good luck with it anyway. (Too Many Animals? Tiny Mini Accident?)

Great quote. Reminds me of some advice I saw Maureen Lipman quoting on telly the other day: That a writer's job is not to judge what they do, but to get on with doing it. Oh balls, it was much better than that and I wrote it down somewhere but now I can't find it...

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. It's definitely a balance thing, isn't it? And the ratio of fantasy vs reality will depend on genre, also on the tastes of the writer/reader, and on the ability of the writer to foster the suspension-of-disbelief thing.

In my first book I started out by including a lot of autobiographical stuff, but I got really bogged down in the detail, trying to describe things faithfully. Eventually I remembered it was a work of fiction, started to make stuff up... and flew. It was so much better when it wasn't 100% true. After all, that's what our imaginations are for. Of course it has to be at least partially believable, but the truth also has to be sculpted for entertainment purposes. Loose ends are tied up, boring bits are missed out, narratives are shaped to give satisfying arcs. It's all part of the novelist's craft.

And yes, you need the occasional unlikely coincidence or spectacular act of bravery or cowardice to make a novel really zing, but then again, as someone said above... real life is full of the spectacular and the unexpected. Our job is to take / invent these dramatic moments and arrange them into something good to read.

ChrisH said...

B, you scared me then, I thought WHAT TMA??? But, you and Jen are on the big girls stuff, aren't you?

I think Lane sums it up for me; I'm willing to go along with larger than life situations, indeed I like them, provided the character is credible. Once again it's all about character.

Good luck with the TMAs.

sheepish said...

Nothing for me thanks as I am off for a run in the rain. Now there are those who would say that that is pretty unbelievable, why would anyone go running in the rain if they didn't really have to, but then thats where we as writers have to stretch the boundaries!!!!!! So I hope I can make you all suspend your disbelief and believe me when I say I run in all weathers. Of course if you don't believe me then I have failed as a writer.
Sobs loudly and prays that someone believes me.
Not sure if this really answers the question but I do really "have" to go for a run so will catch up with everyone else's ideas later. TTFN!!!

sheepish said...

Sorry forgot to wish everyone luck with their TMA's, I did some OU stuff so know all about such little terrors!!!!

SpiralSkies said...

Clare: TMA = Total Monumental Atrocity in my case right now. Bloomin OU. Grrrrrrrrrr. Too Much Actual (reality).

Am not here either. I am a figment of your writerly imaginations. But the thought of actually getting on with this essay beggars belief too. Maybe I don't exist at all? Which means I don't have to go on a diet, surely?

The comments so far, as always, would be great when we mulch up this blog and turn it into a book,no?

Fiona said...

Lovely coffee thank you Jen.

Real life, well mine, features long streches of nuffink and then a bit of a drama. I suppose I am trying to make it the other way round in my book. You know, leaving out all the 'you know's.

Ellie said...

I find myself trying to get things too 'real', which means I start describing every little thing my characters do. I realised I'd gone too far when I started worrying about how I hadn't given any of them loo breaks... I have to remind myself sometimes that I'm making it all up, and as long as I know why something is happening, it can be as bonkers as I like. Anyway, I think second drafts are probably for evening it out a little, and I haven't got there yet!

Kate.Kingsley said...

TMA = Terminal Migraine Attack ~ in this instance at least!

Realism is a tricky one, isn't it? Got to be realistic enough to hold a reader's attention , but fictional enough to not be mundane ~ tricky!

I'm often trapped in the realism / mundanity conundrum ~ I seem to forget that I can MAKE STUFF UP!!! Must grant myself permission to tell more lies (in writing, anyway). Although I do love how no-one in a sopa opera watches soaps. Or goes to the loo. Or comments on the fact that someone has changed their hairstyle.

Good luck fellow TMA-ers ~ remember it's only 5% of the overall mark, so publish (or press 'submit') and be damned! Not finished mine yet either ~ I'm telling myself there's just the references to do. And some editing. And maybe a paragraph or two more if I can chop some words from somewhere else. And another check of the guidelines to see that I've not done the completely wrong thing. Then one last proof read. Maybe a couple more quotes..... Mine'll be a 23:57-er, no doubt ;-)

B said...

Clare, I wish I hadn't told you the real thing now, the guesses/alternatives are far funnier!

ChrisH I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to panic you! Here, have a drink on me to calm you down :)

I've got me wine in the fridge now to power me through the panicking later on! The last TMA was submitted at 23.50 and I'm hoping not to cut it so fine again... but seeing as I only started typing this morning, who can say?

Topic? I got nuffin. Shutting up now. *zips lips*

B said...

Ps - also - sheepish, hope you enjoyed your run! I have to get back into the habit of that - unfortunately my brain tends to remember the first 26 or so years of 'running, urgh, why would anyone ever do that you crazy person' and forget the last 6 years or so of 'oh! because it's actually quite fun and I enjoy it' so i don't get out as much as i wanna. also, TMAs get in the way :)

Ellie, if 24 can get away with Keifer not having a loo break in 24 whole hours, I reckon you don't need to worry too much :) I always imagine him two minutes after the season ends finding a bathroom and peeing for like half an hour. But I may be amused by strange things.

Kate, you cracked me up with the 'I forget I can make stuff up' thing! What else is being a writer for :) And don't forget, if someone commented on the hairstyle there'd have to be a reason behind it - noone ever just comments on a hairstyle - maybe it would be a secret code of some kind? 'If I say your hair's looking lovely then the plot's still on, but if you're having a bad hair day we've been sussed and you should run to Mexico immediately'

*makes note to self to try not to derail threads so quickly in future*

Rowan Coleman said...

Hello all, very late to coffe today due to me leaving daughters scooter in a car park resulting in tears and spending many long hours trying to replace it with one that looked exactly the same (but it's SCOOTY! I LOVE scooty!) failing, getting a slightly different one instead, standing at school gate feeling like utter failure as a parent only to be greeted with 'Oh yes, that's much better than the old one.' Ah, you're thinking - she's off on a tangent the but actually I am not. My point is real life doesn't make novels (see above ) so fiction it up as much as you can get away with, but not so much that the reader doesn't really care what happens to your characters anymore. I did once read a book my a writer I admire that hung its whole plot on a fairly unfeasible coincidence, but the writing and the characters were so good that I didn't care. My new book out in three weeks -ARRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRGH.

KeVin K. said...

I don't think reality is as important as plausibility. You can get away with about anything as long as the story is internally consistent.

CC Devine said...

Belated happy birthday Captain B!

Hope all those TMAers made it!

I've just about made it through this wretched week and I'm late to the coffee break so it's definitely a vodka for me.

I used to get too hung up on how realistic certain storylines were but had a revelation once I realised that it could be unrealistic and escapist so long as the writing was convincing enough to make you believe it.

Leatherdykeuk said...

Tea for me, please.

I do imagine my characters in reality, but then, i write demons and angels, so who am I to judge!

wordtryst said...

In my experience reality trumps fiction hands down; what plays in real life would seldom pass muster on the page.

It's all in the execution. Great writing can pull off just about anything, whereas bad writing won't convince me that someone got up, brushed his teeth and went to work.

JJ said...

I'm joining in with a cup of tea, but I've got nothing to say. I'll just watch from the corner.

Annieye said...

I think whatever you write must be believable. I always think of the character and the choices they make, and then try to figure out why they make those choices in life (like they were bullied at school, or at work, or they felt as if they were less favoured than a brother or sister as a child). I then sometimes go back and insert a strategic sub-plot, or scene, to make the outcome believable.

Lucy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Calistro said...

Sorry I'm late!

My book are paranormal so there's a HUGE suspension of disbelief going on - ghosts, living dead, escalators to and from Limbo, guardian angels, people walking through walls. But that's just scenery and setting really and when it comes down to the characters I think the most important thing is to keep the emotions real, or the emotional response if you like. Of course some people are going to over-react, as people do in real life, but if that's part of their character that's fine. For me the problem with some fiction is when the character does something totally out of character (or out of her reality) without any motivation. That's a sign the author is pulling strings.

But the reality of people sitting now and having a natter over a cup of tea or doing the shopping? I try to avoid that unless it furthers the plot somehow.

Clare Sudders said...

I found the quote I was looking for. Somebody (can't remember who) said this to Maureen Lipman:

It's not your business as an artist to judge your performance. Your business is to keep the channel open, let the life force out. Judgement will just block it.

To which Ms Lipman replied: "But what about satisfaction?" and was told:

"There is no satisfaction, just queer, divine dissatisfaction."

I like that.

L-Plate Author said...

Hi everyone, I'm probably so late that no one will read my comment but hey, that's the reality of life for you!

My books are based on a social housing estate, the very nature of the characters upbringing is total reality, dragged up not brought up. I have to keep things real because of things like housing law, eviction legistlation and benefit fraud, they can't be messed with.

And on one last note, Karen Matthews was sentenced to eight years this week for something that would have been a fantastic plotline for one of my books. Who would have thought that would be real life rather than fantasy....

B said...

Hey L-plate - just to say I read it :)

Un Peu Loufoque said...

Sorry I'm late no electricity thanks to France being battered by storms and no free time thanks to my school age little french men being snotted by "la grippe" so I suppose I'm to late for cake am I?

I never let reality get in the way of a good story when I write and I think is smething is well written one can suspend belief and move into another world if only temporarily. I knwo somany peopel who are far stranger than anything an author might set out to right so perhapsit depends on what one's concept of the norm is? However, when I watch films I always wonder what happens afterwards and how the hero will explain to the city that he has just destroyed most of it single handed.

Please excuse any typos etc etc I am dashing this off at speed before we lose power again!

Un Peu Loufoque said...

Sorry I'm late no electricity thanks to France being battered by storms and no free time thanks to my school age little french men being snotted by "la grippe" so I suppose I'm to late for cake am I?

I never let reality get in the way of a good story when I write and I think is smething is well written one can suspend belief and move into another world if only temporarily. I knwo somany peopel who are far stranger than anything an author might set out to right so perhapsit depends on what one's concept of the norm is? However, when I watch films I always wonder what happens afterwards and how the hero will explain to the city that he has just destroyed most of it single handed.

Please excuse any typos etc etc I am dashing this off at speed before we lose power again!

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

I'm late, and I think it's all been said. I think KeVin makes a good point about internal consistency. And I always remember the saying that 'truth is stranger than fiction' - mainly, I guess, because it doesn't have that internal consistency. Good question, Jen - all those TMAs are evidently exercising your brain to good effect!!