As a fan and a writer of science fiction romance, my “reality meter” is set pretty low. In fact, I love all things paranormal, supernatural, weird, out-there, futuristic, not-readily-explainable and mind-expanding in addition to your usual adventure-in-space tales. I tend not to demand that a story fit within the normal boundaries of “real life.” I imagine most of you feel the same, dear readers, or you wouldn’t be reading this blog.
Though I will occasionally pick up a good history or biography, or catch an interesting TV documentary, I read—and watch—primarily for escape. That’s why I so often choose romance novels, which can not only transport me to another place and time, but also assure me of an emotionally satisfying ending. On-screen, too, I look for an experience that offers something very different from my daily life—a trip back into history, a glimpse at the future, an adventure in an exotic setting, or, at the very least, thrills and chills and stuff blowing up while I remain safe in my theater seat.
My mom (gone for many years now) always used to say she had no interest in soap operas because she had enough of that kind of drama in her own life. I react the same way to novels or films about dysfunctional families, young people trying to “find themselves,” romantic comedies, or—the latest trend—quirky old people on some kind of quest. (Apologies if those happen to be your favorite kind of stories or films; exceptional examples can always be found, of course.)
A friend with a much higher “reality meter” setting and I recently disagreed on just such a film: THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI. Now, already, this is not a film I normally would go for, with its premise of a woman (Frances McDormand) who seeks to shame the local police into solving her daughter’s rape/murder by calling them out publicly on said billboards. But the movie was filmed locally, and my friend recommended it. Since I like Frances McDormand, I tried it.
The acting was great, but the film was disappointing. In particular, I thought the ending left the audience (me) with no sense of closure. The film seemed to have no point, I protested to my friend. But, she responded, that’s just like real life. You often don’t get answers in real life.
Ah, but a film is not real life. It’s fiction, an artificial construct that may reflect real life to a greater or lesser degree, depending on the writer’s choices. The writer is in charge of that construct. The writer can give us answers, unlike real life. I can blame the writer (and the filmmaker in this case) for not giving me the answers I want.
This is the reason I rant and rave at the random killing of beloved characters on television series. I understand that sometimes actors need to leave and move on with their careers. But sometimes, writers just decide to kill characters off for the apparent hell of it (Game of Thrones, Blue Bloods, Walking Dead, Person of Interest, any number of others), weakening the story and leaving fans in gaping disbelief.
In fiction, random acts do not occur. (I would also argue that truly random acts don’t occur in real life, either, but that’s just my personal philosophy.) Things happen in fiction because writers cause them to happen. In the fictional worlds I create, people die when I want them to die, for reasons I lay out carefully in the plot. These deaths cannot be avoided because they trigger other events; they push the hero and/or the heroine to action, or they signal a pivot in the plot.
In the same way, if a story is left without an ending I find satisfying, it’s not because “real life” seldom has a neat ending, though that may be the writer’s argument. The writer chooses to tell the story a particular way, and chooses to end it a particular way. If that’s the case, then, as the reader (or film-goer), I can object to the writer’s choice.
Unlike in real life, where I can only act with the knowledge I have, then lodge a futile protest—or send out feelings of gratitude—to the Great Author in the Sky for whatever surprising turns my own story might take.