6/17/2014 – Reality vs. the Stuff of Dreams
In my writers’ critique group, a complaint is sometimes hurled at another writer’s plot points by saying, “I don’t believe it, couldn’t happen. It’s not realistic.” Since we are writing fiction, is this a valid criticism?
One might say that so many unbelievable things do happen—we see them online everyday–that we should accept the possibilities, no matter how bizarre. We can point to the old standby from Shakespeare’s Hamlet: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Another might say that fiction requires a “willing suspension of disbelief.”
For mystery writers, Dr. Max M. Houck, director of D.C.’s Department of Forensic Sciences, speaking at the Malice Domestic conference, offers this opinion: “Anyone will do anything to anyone.”
My personal favorite is a quote I heard attributed to Emerson which goes something like this: “The ultimate reality is that we live on a spinning ball speeding through infinity.”
When I was a child, I was fascinated by stories of pirates and buried treasure. My parents and friends scoffed at the idea of pirates. And look for buried treasure? Retrieve gold bars from the ocean floor? Ridiculous. Unrealistic. Keep your feet on the ground, they said.
Who is being unrealistic when men like Mel Fisher do bring up gold bars from the ocean floor, when some states require permits for treasure hunting, when pirates still attack ships around the world (72 reported incidents so far this year).
Archaeology seems steeped in fantasy, yet it is actually grounded, so to speak, in recapturing the every day reality of people in the past. I once met a man who had always wanted to be an archaeologist but became a stockbroker because everyone told him to be realistic. Finally fed up with the stockbroker business, he took an advanced degree in archaeology. Since then he has never been without a job as an archaeologist. Of course, it helped immensely that he also knew how to write, a valued skill among his colleagues.
I am fond of mysteries by Beverly Connor, an archaeologist herself. Her fiction may delve into the inexplicable and strange, but it is still realistic.
I also enjoy Carl Hiaason. Some of his characters are hilarious and quite, uh, unusual. But I’m from Florida. The rules are different there (an old Florida slogan), and I’ve met people like Hiaason’s, bizarre or not. They’re all interesting.