Making a story feel more real by making it less realistic.
First off, I’m back, more or less. Real life will always take priority, but I can see from my stats while I was away that some of you have been checking up on me, and I thank you for that. I have endeavored to make this blog a weekly feature, and it was not my intent to have such a long layoff.
Now on to the thrust of my post: intentional unreality, or hyperreality if you prefer. I’ve been slowly crafting a short prequel to my first novel, and using it as a test bed for new techniques, both in the content and in my method of writing. For example, I tried writing military dialogue and radio communications as realistically as possible; I wanted my veteran readers to feel like it was exactly like something they could have experienced. After running some sections by a few people, they weren’t feeling it. So I wrote a little banter into it, and cut some of the verbage that was unnecessary to the story. The kind of thing that would get one thrashed by an NCO had one actually used a radio that way. I feel it connects much better. But why?
Well, beyond “much of real life is boring,” we have all consumed entertainment that causes us to have certain expectations. In movies and on TV, guys just grab a radio and have a conversation. Real radio transcripts feel stilted. See also those people who don’t shoot. Many believe that a handgun will knock man off his feet, and an AR-15 will blaze unlimited, fully automatic fire from the hip for minutes at a time without reloading. Because that’s the extent of their exposure. Even “realistic” movies cannot show a through and through shot and have it come off as believable. There has to be a fountain of blood. The Punisher’s super power in his Netflix incarnation appears to be that his body has seven or eight liters of extra blood to spill on the scenery. And he’s the hero! The villains are pressurized blood bags.
Why? Viewer expectations. The viewer has come to expect massive damage and blood loss. A pinhole entry wound and internal injury that leads to death several minutes later just isn’t what the viewer expects to see (unless the character who was shot needs to covey some information before he expires). Every wound looks like it was caused by something between a Minié ball and a cannon. It’s not realistic, but the viewer perceives it as such because it conforms to excitations.
I’ve tried to clean up my short a bit with this in mind. I’m still doing the legwork of hard sci-fi, but when it’s not necessary to the story I’m letting storytelling take the lead and keeping the science in my back pocket. I’ll put up what I have in the next few weeks, for free. I can’t promise I’ll be thrilled with it, but I’m looking forward to feedback from a wider audience on how well I’m meeting your expectations.
Now I can see the whales
Looming out of the dark
Like arrows in the sky
I can’t believe my eyes
But it’s true
– Gojira, Flying Whales