Friday, January 12, 2018

A REALITY METER SET ON LOW



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.

Cheers, Donna



7 comments:

  1. I definitely agree with you there, Donna, but I won't go off on another rant about how lacking Hollywood has been in dishing up compelling films in recent years. I don't always have to have a happy ending, but I do need an ending with meaning. Wind River comes to mind.

    Three Billboards doesn't sound like a film I'd even be remotely interested in seeing.

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  2. Yes. I don't read dystopian, don't read/watch horror, don't watch soaps (or reality TV). Give me Star Wars every time.

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  3. I agree with your mum on soap operas - there's enough of all that in the news or around us for me to want to see it condensed and regurgitated on tv. I want an escape for reality when I watch or read something. SFR gives me scifi with emotional impact, and when I want a break from that dystopia satisfies my inner sadist with the 'everybody dies!' or at least suffers horribly before the end.

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  4. I think about this question a lot. There are many movies/books with ambiguous or not-HEA endings that I have really loved. I think because I have been so satisfied by the story arc that I'm willing to accept what happened in the end. But then others (COLD MOUNTAIN, for example), I have been frustrated enough to throw the book. I think for me, when I have invested as much emotionally in the *relationship* as I have in the story/plot, I tend to be dissatisfied with those "that's just real life" endings." (Though I have no patience for the argument that a romance arc is not like real life. People who make this argument have forgotten what it's like to fall in love. They NEED a good romance novel to remind them!) Great post, Donna!

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    1. Romance is not real life? I, too, beg to differ, Sharon!

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  5. And thanks, everybody! I'm not surprised that this crowd would favor escapism right along with me!

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