Friday, October 5, 2012

Verisimilitude and Falseness

All writers must deal with verisimilitude.

(Okay, I can think of a counterexample: the avant-garde meta writer who throws together every bizarre element possible to make a point about reality and its fluidity. But even then, without some sense of groundedness the work will be dismissed as something produced under the influence of drugs.)

Most fantasy writers want their magic systems to feel like they could kind of work, that the sorcery, given the rules the writer has made up, is plausible. Scifi writers, too, may loosen the screws of physics a little, but will maintain internal consistency.

Historical writers research. (Fine: Shakespeare had rifles in ancient Greece.) Contemporary writers adhere to the rules of the world as they are today - Riordan characters go to school, have issues with the opposite gender, behave like modern adolescents.

But I'm not sure if any of this (except the last part) has a direct bearing on what has been bothering me lately about my own writing.

Can you write a lesson you have yet to learn? Can you portray characters whose personal development is farther along than yours? Who have lived longer, more, more fully than you?

How can you write truthfully, respectfully, thoroughly, and realistically about people who are completely different from you? This is not a rhetorical question. I want to know.

Some experiences cannot be understood except by those who have gone through them. If you haven't, what can you do, how can you think, so that when you do write about the experience, it rings true?

How much do you need to research in order for your writing to pass muster when inspected by credible people? Stephen Crane's Red Badge of Courage, incredibly, was not written by a soldier. What did he do, that I can use as a guide, when I write about war?

I may speak only obliquely of Death. Today, a small ensemble from my school's band played at a funeral. I did not know the man who died; his younger daughter, who plays trumpet, has exchanged perhaps five words with me. My grandfather, whom I met only twice many years ago, died late 2011. My sister's hamster died when I was in sixth grade.

What do I know of Death? What can I say? I put great faith in the power of my imagination, but it feels wrong, somehow, to imply that I have had truck with grief.

I have never been in love. Currently, I have feelings that asymptotically approach a crush, so I know what it's like to stare at someone and feel you can never look enough, to feel the tension go out of your shoulders at the sound of a voice, to get teased by friends (or in my case, friend singular) who know of your interest.

But love? I've never felt that. I've never even had romantic feelings reciprocated. My image of "true love" is a partnership between equals who respect one another's independence and who, when necessary, rescue each other from fortresses.

Is it actually like this? I feel as though my image is more accurate than Romeo and Juliet's superficial all-consuming attraction. I don't believe in love at first sight. Am I right, or have I just not seen enough of life?

Research takes you only so far. Theory falls short of practice. Are there other ways to overcome the problem, or do you have to accept that there are experiences and themes about which you have no right to speak?

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