Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Hey, That’s not Realistic!


At a recent Bouchercon panel the writer Ken Wishnia made the comment – after a complaint that cops aren’t presented realistically on TV – that no one’s job is presented realistically on TV.

High school teachers watch Glee and say they don’t break into song nearly that often, delivery guys watch Law & Order and say they’d stop unloading the truck for thirty seconds while talking to homicide detectives, and I’m pretty sure zombies watch The Walking Dead and say, come on, we’re not that easy to kill.

But this is a blog about crime fiction so our concern is how crime and criminal investigations are presented in fiction so—no wait, that isn’t right. This is a blog about fiction so our concern is storytelling.

Story rules.

The distance to which the characters and events in fiction stray from the realistic portrayal has everything to do with story.

Everything serves the story.

So I think most of the time when the criticism is that the characters aren’t realistic the real complaint is that the story isn’t working.

And for me, what usually causes the biggest problems with the story is when I’m not completely clear on exactly what story it is I’m trying to tell. Part way through writing a novel I usually get lost and end up throwing a lot out as I make my way back. And sometimes, I guess, I don’t make my way all the way back enough.

Anyway, after meeting Ken at Bouchercon I read the first of his “Filomena Buscarsela mysteries,” 23 Shades of Black and now I’m going to read the rest of them.

They’re very realistic.



Kristi said...

I learned this the hard way. In my first book, I put actual conversations I had with a serial killer who preyed on little girls. One or two beta readers told me that the serial killer was unrealistic! So reality did not support him! I had to adjust slightly and left in some actual conversations while adapting others. What is true doesn't always translate well to fiction. Lesson learned.

seana graham said...

I don't remember in exactly what context Adrian McKinty was quoting him recently, but he did bring up Herzog in relation to very naturalistic fiction, who compared it to cinema-vérité, whose makers he declared "the accountants of truth". Herzog seems to have used "accountant" often when showing his contempt for something, which is a bit unfair, but I take his point.

Dana King said...

In another Bouchercon panel, Mark Billinghammade this comment about olice procedurals: let’s be honest, no one is writing actual police procedurals. They’d be a thousand pages long, dull as ditchwater, and you wouldn’t like the ending. The authors and readers have an arrangement where they will suspend disbelief and we will provide a heightened reality.

I like that summation: we have an arrangement.