Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Why Real Life Isn't a Good Guide to Good Fiction

Actually, I don't have anything to say at the moment. But Rufi Cole's blog has a nice post on the whole problem of why we aren't allowed to make fiction as strange as life.

I am friends with both Rufi and her mother, writer Kimberly Cole. They live in a duplex in Corona del Mar, with Kimberly in the upstairs unit, and Rufi in the downstairs unit.

Uh-huh. Mother and daughter, living adjacent to one another. And both novelists. Yeah, sure, that's a believable setup.


Frances Garrood said...

A good post, David, although I think general fiction allows more "magic", concidences etc than the writer implies. I believe it's partly a question of how well it's written. The better the writing, the more likely the writer is to get away with it. In a novel by Mary Wesley (I've forgotten which one) a character has a row with her new husband on her wedding day, then goes to bed and never gets up again. This works because Wesley is such a brilliant writer. A lesser novelist might not have got away with it.

But it's not for nothing that "truth is stranger than fiction" is a cliche. It often is.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Frances--

Sure...and if the reader is beguiled enough, they will willingly buy off on things that they really don't quite believe.

John Gardner had a novel title "October Light" about an elderly brother and sister who live together in a remote farm house. They begin feuding, and she locks herself in an upstairs bedroom and refuses to come out, living on apples stored there, using an old chamber pot and dumping it out the window, and diverting herself by reading a old pulp novel (some of which is presented in the book) which is the sort of thinking she would never read...

I didn't actually believe a word of it, but I was so charmed by it that I didn't care.

Deborah Swift said...

I agree, it's all about the quality of the writing.
Frankenstein works amazingly well as a novel despite the fact it's rather unlikely to say the least!

David Isaak said...

Hi, Dee--

I don't think Rufi is saying you can't begin from an improbable premise. I think she's worried about coincidences and events that seem too symbolic.

Remember the scene at the end of "A Farewell to Arms," where the protagonist steps out into the rain after the death of Catherine?

There's no reason on earth it shouldn't be raining. But it reads-to me, at least--as a symbolic contrivance on the part of the author, and rather spoils the end.

(Of course, I thought having Catherine die at all spoiled the end, too, and refused to grappple with the meaning of the rest of the book.)

Nikwdhmos said...

Ahh yes, the perennial problem.