Monday, May 11, 2009

Will the Real Reality Please Stand Up?

reality--a place and condition writers attempt to replicate in their work; a representative fabric of plausible setting, physical, moral, and social conditions of a particular time in a circumstance intended to be conflated with the physical, moral, and social conditions of a specific place or in an imaginary place which is intended nevertheless to be taken by the reader as a plausible, real place.

Reality is a condition that surrounds events, living things, institutions, traditions, and conventions. The Salem Witch Trials of 1692 were surrounded by a reality that still affects individuals and institutions of the twenty-first century, the attitudes prevalent at that time have evolved just as some aspects of civilized society have evolved since then, but there still exists Taliban and other forms of evangelical extremism that inform our contemporary choices and have an impact on our ability to chose.

Reality effects characters in stories in direct proportion to the attitudes of writers writing at a given time about their own time or previous times and as well their individual projections of future realities. No matter where a story is set, it is in effect an alternate universe story because it is filtered through a specific writer's prism of reality, even that writer's vision of an imaginary reality. In some universes there are planets and physical conditions that do not obtain in stories set in this universe or on planet Earth.

It is the writer's job to visualize and then convey a plausible reality with conventions and physical properties most readers will accept as valid, perhaps even as rational. It is also the writer's job to present individual characters with individual attitudes toward the reality in which they live, all the better to convey these characters as being plausible individuals whose behavior is taken as a given, not as a philosophical tenet. Robert Heinlein is excellent at presenting such alternate realities and plausible characters within these realities (The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, Have Space Suit--Will Travel, A Stranger in a Strange Land). So too is Theodore Sturgeon (See More Than Human) and Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles). But so too was Anthony Trollope (The Way We Live Now) and so too is William Faulkner (As I Lay Dying and A Light in August.)

Story is vital, but it needs the steady plinth of reality on which to perch.

How to convey reality: Believe in the characters and their goals, believe in the effectiveness of the constraints placed upon these believable characters by their cultures, their families, and their own abilities. Believe in the notion of the need for a character to reach beyond the constraints of his or her reality, by which action he or she brings us into sympathy with the reality of the story.

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