Yesterday I was happily discussing with a friend the awesome book I’d just finished — and which she’d read previously — when I happened to mention a couple of things that didn’t quite work for me.
(I can’t help it — attempting to write novels has somewhat killed my ability to just read and enjoy… now I analyse what works and doesn’t work, and why.)
Anyway, my comment related to one of the major characters’ core motivations for the books. Can one really, at age 16, be so utterly convinced it’s true love that one will sacrifice everything for the object of one’s affection? (Some readers might guess which books, from that. I repeat, I think they’re awesome!)
It was an idle comment, and an issue that doesn’t really bother me or detract from the novels, but my friend’s response brought me almost to a standstill.
“It’s just a story. It’s not real life,” she said. Patronisingly.
I reeled. Pressure built in my chest, but with effort I replied with something vague and evasive and continued on in silence, stewing.
I suppose my reaction was so extreme because it felt as though everything I strive to do — everything I love about both writing and reading — was being dismissed as fluff. For me everything is about characters and making them believable and consistent and multi-dimensional. Show me a writer (and surely many readers as well) who doesn’t feel that way.
Books and stories that make my throat clog with emotion are the benchmark. Experiencing such is transcending and can make me view the world completely differently thereafter.
So, to have someone dismiss as irrelevant — It’s just a story. It’s not real life — the fact that a character might possibly not ring true, cut me deeply.
More to the point, it suggests that writers shouldn’t bother about verisimilitude or believability. That writers shouldn’t bother trying to move people or make them think differently. That fiction is just entertainment, pure and simple, not worth an ounce of idle thought.
Am I overreacting?
Maybe. But I strongly believe that readers want to be moved, to be touched, to have their world view challenged. All wrapped up in a great story of course. A story that is written so well that it’s easy to imagine that it could be real life, that such events could happen. That the characters truly could live, eat and breathe themselves right off the page…
I’m sure my friend has no idea how deeply struck I was by what was probably merely an idle comment from her. Maybe I’d poked a stick in the eye of her favourite character or something!
What would you have done?