I write stories about adult relationships. My characters interact with each other in the variety of ways that adult human beings interact. They love, laugh, and lie. Men and women meet, get involved and break up. My primary goal is emotional realism. When one of my characters gets into a situation, I want them to react in a way that is realistic for that kind of person in that kind of scene.
This is where I trace the Shakespearean roots of my stories. The scenarios may be strange and bizarre, but the voices of the characters ring true. I abhor plastic, cardboard, cartoon caricatures as representations of humanity. Allegories are passe.
Because I write of human beings in human situations, the responses to my stories are often not what I expect, particularly when my characters are bad to each other. While the more astute readers will congratulate me on a story well told, other readers will react to the story as though I was telling them about my real life living friends and their real life problems. They express anger and hatred toward the characters. “I’d punch him in the face!”
Strange as that reaction is, I take it as a compliment. For a character, built entirely of words, to evoke such a violent reaction is a testament to a job well done.
“I’d dump her!” they scream, virtually.
“She’s not real,” I sometimes want to remind them. “She’s a character I made up in a story I made up. She doesn’t exist. She didn’t actually do these things. No one was hurt in the writing of this story.”
Engaging people in this way is fun and somewhat disturbing. I find myself concerned about the ability (weakness) some people have to transform the fictional into the non-fictional in their minds. I trust they can draw a solid line between story and fact, but I’m not entirely sure that is a trustworthy conclusion.
Story is a curious thing, designed to engage our minds and emotions by a sequence of words that describe, depict and delineate events. For those of us who use the medium, it is a way to explore the realm of the possible and impossible in a sensible fashion. All of my stories begin with an internalized statement of “what if …” While I may borrow facts and ideas from the reality we share, I rarely write stories based on actual people or actual events. Reality just isn’t that interesting, by comparison with the endless realm of the imaginable.
So, when we read fiction, perhaps some of us need think, borrowing from my friends at MST3K; “repeat to yourself, it’s only a story, I should really just relax.”