There’s a probably-apocryphal story about the movie MARATHON MAN (wherein, Dustin Hoffman is tortured by having his teeth drilled, without anesthesia). Supposedly, Hoffman (a method actor) went to his dentist and submitted to similar dentistry, so that he could know what his character experienced. When he recounted that story on the movie’s set, Laurence Olivier said, “My dear boy, don’t you understand? We call it acting for a reason!”
I think of that story often, when I’m writing. The goal of my storytelling — whether I’m working in the secondary world of the Darkbeast novels or the contemporary world (with witches!) of the Jane Madison books or any other fictional setting – is to make my created world seem real to my readers. (Duh!) Sometimes, in order to make something ring true, to make it seem real, I have to tweak my depiction of reality, actually making my text *less* real than the world in which we live.
For example, last week, we talked about naming characters. Most people (although not all!) agreed with my suggestion to avoid naming characters with similar names (e.g., Edgar, Edmund, Edward, and Edmund). Even if, in the real world, we regularly interact with people who have similar names and we manage to keep them straight without great difficulty, as authors, we manipulate things to make reading easier. We strip out similar names, sacrificing a bit of reality for readability.
Usually, we do the same thing in dialog. Rather than relay actual conversations the way that real people speak (full of pauses and hmms and ums and likes), we usually write dialog as sharply polished sentences that get to the heart of the matter quickly and precisely. Sure, we occasionally make an awkward reality clear by way of punctuation marks and misspellings, but that writing is almost always to specify how a single character speaks, or how a specific exchange is delivered in a single instance. By eliminating real-life conversational hiccups, we help our readers move through our stories more efficiently.
Storytelling is the art of making illusion seem real. Sometimes that art is accomplished by sacrificing reality. What other aspects of real life do you find yourself curtailing or editing or ignoring altogether, to make your created worlds seem more real?
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