T.J. and Diana have already given us great posts about reality in fiction, and especially in popular fiction. Face it - you won't read about vampires in literature now, would you?
As writer, crit partner and also as editor, I have come across some instances where the people writing want it to be real. Fine, but you must know there's fictionalised real and utter realism. And that, is the distinction between popular fiction and literature.
The example I am going to take pertains to 2 authors studied in literature classes today. Dickens and Austen. Oliver Twist/Great Expectations versus Sense and Sensibility/Pride and Prejudice. Which one of them would you be more inclined to read? The latter, right? Why? Because Austen never set up her works to portray the drab reality of her time and the utter grit and realism of life in her era. You may argue that Austen writes about big families and nobility and well-to-do people, but hey, Tess of the Ubervilles (Hardy) was also about a big family. Check out the differences between the treatment in the two author's penning.
Austen can be said to be popular fiction, while Dickens and Hardy are hardcore literature. When Austen penned her tales, she didn't do so to impress that her time was hard. She wrote them as a social depiction of women in her position. It was escapist in nature, even though it used aspects of society and reality to put across the situation and plight of her heroines.
Popular fiction is about this - you use an aspect of reality as the foil for enveloping your characters' stories. Imagine a whole fish wrapped in foil paper that you put in the embers of the grill during a barbecue. When lunch/dinner time comes, you open the foil to get to the cooked food. In popular fiction, the foil is the reality and the fish is the story of the characters (whether romance, suspense, drama). It's the other way round for literature - the foil is your characters and the fish is reality, because you're aiming to show reality in all its smaller detail.
Which brings me to another point we have considered this month - how real should your character be? I've often heard writers say they want their character to be as real as possible. That's fine, as long as he is real enough but not a mirror image of the real people out there. Imagine the typical thirty-something male who's supposed to be the hero of your romance. Most real guys in that age bracket live for the trip to the pub, meeting the mates and hollering like a madman over a game of soccer live on the enormous flat-screen that's just above the bar. He almost always forgets birthdays, anniversaries and big dates, and you can be pretty sure that given the choice between cuddling with his girl and playing Fifa 2000-whatever on the X-Box with his mates with a six-pack close by, he'll choose the second option. That's reality - is that the romance hero you want? Fine - not all men are tycoons and millionaires and handsome like Greek Gods. Yet this is exactly what we're looking for, because not all men are tycoons, millionaires and handsome like Greek Gods. Reality, and ultimately literature, is Homer Simpson singing SpiderPig in your front room; popular fiction is Daniel Craig coming out of the water in his tiny-tiny shorts every time you turn in his direction.
Another example - tabloids. Why are they so popular? Because they tell us most often about the downfall of the rich, beautiful and famous. We're not rich, beautiful or famous like them, and it's nice to note that they don't get everything on a platter while walking on the red carpet everywhere. Imagine the chubby gal with the buck teeth and the frumpy hair at your local supermarket, and imagine the likes of Paris Hilton. If you're told, her man ditched her, what will you think? For the socialite, you'll go, aww that's so sad, but inside you'll be like, good for her. Why? Because she's got it all why you don't. I know, bitchy, but that's reality. Same for the supermarket girl. You'll be like, she had a man? While I don't (and I'm ultimately better than she is)??? Face it - we don't want to see people worse off than us with what we don't ahve, and we want to see the ones who have it all fall and come back to our level again. Watch talk shows and check out the happy-happy couples who profess their love for each other at every turn and who look welded together. Half the time, he looks like Elmer from the Looney Tunes and she looks like something the cat dragged in. While we're slathering on the sunscreen, the makeup, enduring torture when waxing our legs and blow-drying our hair every morning, where's our guy? The one who'll stand by us always and who thinks we're the most beautiful creature of the world even as we wake up with puffy eyes and the imprint of our pillowcase on our cheek?
Reality is okay, but we already live reality -our reality- every single day. We don't want to read about it too. Fiction is escapism, fiction is hope for us that we too can make it, we too can be the most beautiful thing in the world to another person, that we too can climb the corporate ladder and break the glass ceiling, that we too can rake in the moolah effortlessly.
Write literature if you're intent on realism. Write popular fiction if you want to bring hope into the world.
I'd love your take on my very long-winded post! Any comments welcome!
Aasiyah Qamar - Cultural Romantic Fiction, With a Twist
Coming out October 2 - Light My World - Eirelander Publishing
Nolwynn Ardennes - The Promise of Fulfilment
Coming out in January 8, 2010 - Storms in a Shot Glass - Eirelander Publishing
Aasiyah Qamar/Nolwynn Ardennes - Romance the world over