Tuesday, October 17, 2023

The Reality Balancing Act

By Elaine L. Orr

Reality is not the first concern when writing fiction, but individual scenes have to be realistic --- within a book's  premise or setting.

If a book deals with mayhem or murder, an author can't describe a massive wound or injury and then have the character recover in a couple of days. The mean kid at school is not suddenly a kind volunteer (without substantial intervention), and no one gets across New York City in ten minutes.

As a traditional/cozy mystery writer, I've created sleuths who have (to me) interesting jobs -- real estate appraiser, landscaper, graphic artist, and small-town police chief. I also like my characters to be involved in things besides solving a mystery. Unless it's your job, who would stop all activity to pursue suspects?

In fact, I once made the amteur sleuth a teacher. That left too little time for crime-solving, so she broke her arm and had to be off work for a couple of weeks.

Wat about those other "things" sleuths do? 

On my website, I say this:

     "What makes Elaine’s fiction different from other traditional mysteries? Some might say the dry humor (only a few say lame), but she thinks it is the empathy her characters show to others. Fiction can’t ‘lecture’ readers. But it can contain people whose paths we cross every day — whether we know it or not. The bright colleague or grouchy neighbor who’s actually in severe emotional pain, the families struggling to provide enough food for their children, the vet with PTSD. While characters solve crimes or plan silly fundraisers, they can tacitly let us know there is a world beyond those activities. And maybe they can make it a little better."

For me, reality is recognizing the world around us isn't perfect and quietly doing something about it. However, people read fiction in part to escape reality. So, if one character runs a food pantry, part of the attention to it is through a silly fundraiser.

I think one reason I like M.C. Beaton's Hamish Macbeth books is his involvement in things around him beyond the crime he's solving. Admitedly, sometimes his fixes are pretty unlikely. But, he is a constable (at least when he's demoted) so he can do a lot.

None of a character's 'other activities' are meaningful unless they tie into the story. I've learned it's easier to have a real estate appraiser involved in many activities and get all over town than for a graphic designer. But even bad guys could need a TikTok video.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Elaine: Taking time away from my writing to learning more about you and your work. What I'm finding is fresh and bright and complicated. I hope my team will jump in full speed ahead to make my Mother Courage dreams come true.