Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Reality, Impossibility, and Logic

What does a novel need?
  • emotion
  • setting
  • character motivation
  • tone
  • voice
  • inciting action
  • reaction
  • resolution
  • antagonist
  • protagonist
  • conflict
...and so on.

On my morning drive to work (a very boring time where I waver between flipping between radio stations and testing my luck with just how far over the speed limit can I get away with) I can up with a theory. Considering I just sat down, there's a chance this theory is crap, but...

I think that in any given novel (at least the kind of novels I like), you only need one thing in the above list to be real. This must be authentic, or the reader will not like your book. The thing that must be real is:
  • voice
Of the rest of the things in the list, you can waver between real and not-real. However, what is not-real must be logical. For example, in Graceling, Katsa's emotions are not real--typically, no reasonable person on Earth would have her emotions. However, her emotions are logical given her character and situation. Perhaps a better word would be fantastic (as in fantasy, not as in awesome). Such as Joss Whedon's Firefly series: science fiction setting is, by definition fantastic, but he has rules to his world that make it logical.

However, typically a novel needs to have more realistic elements than not. For example, in the Harry Potter series, the setting, inciting action, and even the antagonist and protagonist are fantastical--but the emotion evoked by the characters, their tone, their reaction to the inciting action, the character motivation, and the conflict itself is very real. In other words--everything is real in the story, aside from the magic. Everything is real in Firefly, aside from the space ships and genetic engineering. Everything is real in Graceling, aside from the Graces.

This applies to "realistic" fiction as well. I was watching CSI:Miami last night (cheesy, I know, but the sunglasses and dramatic music make me laugh). In it, a boy kills another boy for a very stupid reason--but it was a reason that everything else in the story led up to. So, while his character motivation was a little fantastic, because everything else--setting, inciting action, reaction, antagonist--was realist, the entire plot worked. Had anything else been fantastic about the plot--if, for example, the inciting action had been something weird like an elephant falling on someone's head--the story would not at all be believable.

Example: Euripedes's Medea. In it, Medea has magical powers of foresight and potion making. OK, cool, I can handle that. Everything else--the antagonist, the conflict, the emotion, etc., are all firmly realistic. Until you get to the end. Then dragons show up. Kinda random, that. With a protagonist who's magical, but with nothing else magical, having a resolution that's magical is overdone.

I think this is on my mind because I am formulating a couple of different plots right now, and trying to decide which elements will be fantasy and which will be realistic. Do I make this character magical--or not? Do I resolve the conflict with magic--or not? In the end, I am going to have to weigh how much fantasy should be in the plot...and to build the realistic elements around it.
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