I have a good friend who is a talented writer. Let’s call him Gus because I do. Like most writers, including myself, Gus reads and watches TV and movies voraciously. Over the decades, I’ve discovered that the two of us couldn’t have more different of taste in fiction. We’re like oil and water when it comes time to choose something to watch together or when we discuss the latest books we’ve read, and over the years an argument, of sorts, has developed between the two of us. Which is better, stories based upon real life and realistic characters or completely fictionalized stories that could never occur in the real world?
It’s not much of an argument, and since we agree on almost everything else in life, it’s mainly just for conversation. There are things to be said for both sides and both Gus and I are willing to contend to the others’ points pretty easily, but it’s something to consider anytime you’re, for want of a better word, ingesting fictionalized entertainment whether it be on a screen or in a novel or audio or any format. Personally, I prefer fiction that is based on real-world events, such as true crime novels or the stories based upon the lives/events of real people. My argument is that people create stories the best writer in the world could never conceive and, since they’re based on the real world, they’re more relatable. Gus’s preference is for science fiction or fantasy, super-heroes and uber-ego bad guys. His consumption of fiction is for escape, so he would rather it have nothing to do with the real world and the more out-of-this-world, the more the necessity for the suspension of disbelief, the better.
I recently went to a writer’s conference and had an opportunity to meet a wide variety of authors of many different genres ranging from sweet romances to urban fantasy to space opera. As I sat in a room of word geeks as we discussed the in’s and out’s of creating good stories, it dawned on me that we’re essentially all writing pretty much the same stories. My tagline for my romances is “Romance With a Real Touch” and I always strive to write characters who are intimately relatable, who could be your next-door neighbor rather than what we see in so many romances with perfect billionaire heroes who tie innocent girls up for their games. Not that those guys don’t exist in the real world, but let’s face it, those books are feeding a fantasy as much as the books that appeal to Gus.
At this conference, many of the authors were discussing how, even if your character is an “ordinary guy,” a good story still will bring out something fantastical and unique to make a story exciting enough to read. On the other hand, I watched and listened to authors writing stories about ballroom dancing werewolves discuss how they needed to pull back from their fantasy to make their characters relatable so that readers could build a connection to their fantastical world. Even though readers were living out a fantasy, the underlying themes of their stories are the same as something as ordinary as any real-world story.
Maybe, in the end, Gus and I are more alike than we are different. We’re reading the same stories, pulling out the same meaning of life from the themes in our tales, only coming at the same center from different ends of the spectrum. When all I said and done, it’s the deeper meaning that matters and we can all appreciate those deeper stories, regardless of the path chosen. Gus and I can adjust our perspectives enough to include the other’s viewpoint, but we’re still unlikely to choose the same movie to watch.