Fantasy wins, but reality pwns
 


Before the official post, I'll share a funny story with you that's true. Friday I met up with my best friend who gave me a tray of baklava, for she knows my sweet tooth is small, but I can never pass up baklava. Ever. She called to let me know she got home okay and asked me to kiss my dog for her. So I did, but at that moment he smelled the baklava, jerked his head, headbutted me...and broke my nose. Kind of funny, but now after 36 hours the swelling is going down and turns out he straightened it and fixed the bump from past breaks. In short my dog gave me a $20,000 nose job because he likes baklava as much as I do.

So why share this? I hope you laughed. I am laughing, I have to, because oh holy hell, does it freaking hurt. I haven't slept in 36 hours mostly because I tend to sleep on my stomach which means burying my face in the pillow...and waking up screaming.

Hmm, notice anything in my anecdote? The first part was funny. The second likely made you wince in sympathy (if so, thank you. If not, save me a spot in Hell by the lake of fire). What does this translate into for writing? In short, there's a line between just enough and too much, and finding it is damn tough.


Apparently many people have trouble finding that line

 
 
Comedians tread this line because that narrow line is where humor lives. However the line is very important in fiction. Think of how much of your own life you use in a story. Maybe your protagonist had a dog just like yours when he was a kid too. Maybe she lost her virginity listening to NPR as well, or maybe your story's crazy aunt Ida is based off your crazy aunt Mary. Fiction is nothing without reality, but where do we draw the line?

Let's start with the general. There is a concrete rule to writing sex scenes. Memorize this! Never, ever write a scene that is 100% your sexual fantasy. Now, want a quick reason why not? Twilight. Fucking twilight. That's all it is: Stephanie Meyer's lame-ass Mormon sexual fantasy. If you want to write tripe panned by critics why not just write letters to Penthouse?

Specifically every writer walks a tight-rope with a long pole in their hands. At one end is the writer's vision and the other holds the reader's wishes. They have to balance in your hands or you'll fall.

Specifically in regards to sex scenes, I'm going to open up here. my personal #1 sexual fantasy is to lay on a fainting couch on a dais and be fed food by handsome, buff, mute men while 20 handsome, buff, mute men oiled and in loin cloths engage in gladiatorial combat. Oh, they all have long hair, and winner or loser I fuck them all after, 3-4 at a time. Now, reading that, ladies, about 8 out of 10 of you are curling your lips in disgust, 1 of you wants to know if that could ever happen, and 1 of you is squirming a little in your seat. To the one who wants to know, yes, I've done it on a smaller scale, but sadly they weren't mute. And for any men reading this, if you have long hair, don't like to talk, and know how to sword fight, email me.

If you're familiar with my writing, have you ever seen a scene close to that? No? Why? Because 80% of my readers would hate it. Ladies, I hear you; you want the fantasy of a Dominant man who pleasures you while you sit back and do nothing. Hey, that's everyone's fantasy, but in reality, that's what Dominants get. I am a Dominatrix and if I ever mix sex into it I get to just lay back and let my slaves do all the work. In the real world it's the Dominants who are pampered, but in fiction the rules are different.



This is an eerily good eample


 
Now, ripping our minds from the gutter, where else is too real a bad thing? The most glaring instance has to be when writing about a real person. Anyone can put the legalese in that the work is fiction, and any resemblance to any place or person(s) living or dead is coincidental, but if your villain has your villainous neighbor's exact name, height, build, looks, job, house, family, and habits...hello lawsuit city. When dealing with that you need to tweak it. Change the name, hair color, and some personality flaws around. Just enough for plausible deniability.

Another specific where reality gets in the way is humor. Humor is difficult to write and there are 2 approaches. In one you build humor slowly, as in increasingly absurd circumstances keep happening. Great examples of that are Why I live At The P.O. by Eudora Welty or any Spencer/Hepburn film (my favorite is Desk Set, such a cute romantic film for any non-geek in love with a computer geek, a little shocking, but I prefer my film romances with no sex). 

The other style is inversion. Sarcasm, or the unexpected typically make up this camp. The best example that comes to mind is from the Simpsons. In a scene showing how Homer is a failure at many things he mixes milk and cereal in a bowl. Expected outcome: delicious breakfast. Actual result: it catches on fire. Inversion is when elements A and B combine and you expect C, but you get 2 paperclips and a gummi bear. The more ridiculously idiosyncratic the result, the better.


 
Fire & lactose: either comedy gold, or a great band name ripe for the picking


 
Combine the two styles for the best impact, say, for example, a man has to give a speech at a community center on sex addiction, and fears public speaking. For weeks he practices, citing his nerves, and writes a script to follow. Then comes the day he gives it and he doesn't look up from the index cards until he's done, and a room full of special needs kids stares back horrified. Dicey, yes, but those of you going to Hell with me just laughed.

Reality ruins humor the way it did in my example at the start. Usually you want to avoid details after the climax. Using the speech example if you go on to write about the lengthy lawsuits and therapy sessions that result your reader will not remember the initial scene as funny. Keep it punchy. Maybe mention in passing dialogue later he ended up serving jail time when for his initial probation he threw a fundraiser for the kids, only the magician he hired turned out to be a midget stripper.



Considering how much this made me laugh, I believe I will have a middle-management position in Hell


 
Now, what is the single worst case of too much reality? It's when the protagonist is you. We all have stories like that. Your protagonist should be 60-80% you, but that 20-40% difference should be severe. If your protagonist is clearly you, well, one of two things will happen. If the reader knows enough about you that they can tell, they will feel like they are intruding on private thoughts, and lose their ability to envision the protagonist on their own. And if they can't tell, well, let's be honest, how exciting are any of us real people? Lord, my average day would bore you to tears. It took me 45 minutes just to put my nose ring in today, do you really want to read 3 pages on that?

So...where's the line? A ha!  A very good question which brings us to the "so what?" of reading. Non-fiction conveys who, what, where, when, why, and how. fiction coveys all that and "so what?" You can also think of it as "so why the fuck am I reading this?" When being a reader, apply it to the book in general. This is how you can tell a classic. You read Toni Morrison to better understand the human spirit, and you read Stephen King for some horror, amusement, and a few laughs. And if you read Dean Koontz you're probably recovering from your lobotomy at a swift pace.




Reading material says a lot about a person. For example, someone reading this is obviously constipated


 
Writers have to ask themselves "so why would someone read this?" with every scene. Ask it when editing, wait until after you've done the writing or you'll go mad. What is the point of the scene? What does it add to the overall story, mood, or character arc? The bits and pieces that scream "not a single goddamned thing!" are usually the overly-realistic details you need to drop.

Sure, in reality maybe you think having sex to Bjork's "All Is Full Of Love" is great, but put that in a book and I'm going to read "full sex in 4 minutes and 11 seconds? Somebody has a problem." Add too many aftermath details to a joke and the laughter stops. Add too much "explaining" before an anecdote and your readers' minds wander. Add too much of yourself to the protagonist and your reader is uncomfortable. Add too much of someone else to a character and they might sue.

If you've never tried this with your own writing, don't start there! Get your favorite book, it doesn't matter what it is (I must confess, perhaps my favorite book of all time is Dr. Suess' Oh the Places You'll Go). Don't judge. Memorizing that book has gotten me laid twice, and quoting it to people when they're sad makes them smile. See? You smiled at "don't judge," but those extra details made your lips flatten and an eyebrow raise. I can see it!

Now take that favorite book and analyze every scene by asking yourself "so why am I reading this? Why do I enjoy this? What am I getting from this?" You can't be a writer until you're a reader, and you'll never be a good writer unless you're a good writer. And do check out that Suess book, it embodies one thing no author writing for adults has ever conveyed so well: hope.


If you said THIS was your favorite book and use it as I suggest above, you get enough smart-ass points to win at life