Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Great Escape

With fiction, no one wants to just read a book. What lures us to crack open the cover and begin flipping pages is the fervent desire to crawl inside a story. To escape the pressures, the conflicts, the duties, even the boredom of everyday life. It’s why we love film and television, why comic books and sci-fi conventions rage in popularity, why The Sims became the number one selling computer game of all time.

Let’s take it a step further. It’s not just escaping into a story. It’s escaping our own story and climbing inside someone else’s. Many people work with a Dwight (The Office) yet the experience is not the same from the inside. *smile* Having a jerky boss like Michael Scott (again The Office) is no picnic when your paycheck depends on placating a bozo. Place that same moronic, insensitive blowhard outside of your own living sphere and hilarity ensues. *heh-heh*

Charlie Chaplin said, “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot."

There’s a curious exploration of that in the old Heinlein classic, “Stranger in a Strange Land.” The leading character, Michael Valentine Smith, is human by birth but when his astronaut parents died while stationed on Mars, he’s raised by an alien consciousness. It follows that he has no sense of human ways, especially that most peculiar of human traits—a sense of humor. The jokes to him seem cruel. When a comedian pokes fun at another, he’s dismayed and puzzled. Why is this funny? How can people be enjoying this? Since he has no perspective to escape from, he does not feel the same sense of relief or satisfaction.

The more invested we are in a situation, the more we seek escape. Yet the most pleasing form of escapism is one that is closest to our own needs. My husband, whose work is all about strategy and win/lose techniques, enjoys watching documentaries about World War II. My favorite escapism relates to my own writing choice—I prefer a good romantic comedy.

The problem with writing fiction is that we have to crack the code that changes our books into that perfect escape pod. Where the reader can forget herself and slip inside the story.

Agent Jessica Faust asked on her blog which readers needed most—A good plot or good writing. Without a plot, I’m lost. The words become meaningless and I might as well be staring at a painting (as Seinfeld would say, NOT that there’s anything wrong with that). Without good writing though, the plot is just scenes strung together and I’m reading rather than slipping inside the story.

The writing doesn’t have to be brilliant, breath taking, where every word is a little speck of magic either. For me, what stands out is voice. If a writer believes her story, the voice is true. The characters breathe life. The plot dances just as I do after a few drinks. *cough*

The voice carries me along and the story comes alive. That, for me, is The Great Escape.

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