01 January 2011

Fictions in Fiction

Everyone loves being lied to--but they hate it too. Take a look at the second word in this phrase: Science Fiction. For the blind, that's 'Fiction', which means 'falsehood', among other things. We can make it almost as pejorative as we want, going perhaps with 'lies', or simply leave it at 'not real'--the point is that everything we read and see within our chosen literary field that is not explicitly nonfiction is an untruth.

Obviously, this isn't much of a problem.

I would say that when I read a book, or even watch a series, I substitute logic for 'truth', accepting the overall falsehood of the work to float on its own logical raft. It's not a perfect substitution; I've never really felt lied to, but rather felt misled, like it took me down a path that wasn't real, or maybe required a couple of leaps that were too hard to take, but within a work that flows consistently, the illusion can hold remarkably well. When you can start to make predictions and judgments about characters, and begin to predict what they will do next, the chain is complete, and you know with great certainty that that which is not logical is probably illogical within the world of the work, rather than an oversight. (perfect is unattainable; ask any Wheel of Time fan what happened to Asmodean and you might see where this breaks down)

However, just because something is logical doesn't mean that it is necessarily correct. Stories need bad guys, and bad guys have serious issues with truth-telling, so how can they lie without misleading the audience? Here I tend to have the same issue that everyone else does: when a character says something, when the author describes something, it is automatically assumed to be true by the audience. To be honest, sometimes it's just plain the fault of the creator: they thought they were clear, they thought it was obvious. As all readings are equally valid--not correct, just valid--it can be said that the reader/viewer is never at fault, although we know this is an abstraction that falls apart upon reading a dedicated forum. Sometimes, the work is blatantly lying to you.

Most authors don't have problems with this, however, or they wouldn't be selling their work. They get around it and work with their audience, either through a character's actions or thoughts, or, when working with a limited omniscient perspective, simply informing the audience. Some authors are good enough that they can get away with lies that aren't lies, truths cloaked in distraction that are later revealed. That last part is a real deal-breaker sometimes...leave too big a lie unrevealed or cloaked in subtlety, and you can lose the audience. It doesn't even have to be all that important to be a distraction, either, so the better creators generally adopt a policy of either being explicit about the solution or about the lie.

There's another kind of lie out there, though, and this one is the most maddening for the creator simply because it's virtually impossible to catch: What Happened To The Mouse? To quote:
A "What happened to the mouse" occurs when a minor character, action, or very minor plotline is suddenly dropped for no apparent reason, without resolution.
The audience will sometimes focus on the smallest, most inane things, and decide that they are critical to the understanding of the plot, and when they don't get resolved--mostly because they're, you know, irrelevant--they get thrown for a loop. I tend to fall into this a lot, because I get distracted and start to construct my own logical framework sometimes; I presume others have the same issue.

When it comes down to it, I like being lied to when I read or watch; it makes me feel, well, normal, normal in the sense of participating in the world of the work and walking alongside the characters. Just as we lie to ourselves, to be part of a living, breathing world, the characters of a book, series, or movie need to lie as well...or at least seem to.

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