U – Understanding

U

Okay, so on the one hand, this seems like me reaching for something that starts with U for the A to Z Challenge. On the other hand, this is one of the ones that made some of the most sense to me.

The famous quote is, of course, Write What You Know. Because in so many ways, writing is taking what you know, and making it so it’s a thing the reader knows. Maybe they won’t know all of it – maybe they’ll only take a quote away. Nonetheless, you’re adding to what they know.

However, as you may have noticed, I am a fan of science fiction and fantasy – genres that are impossible if you take a literal interpretation of “Write What You Know.” Only a handful of people would be qualified to write about travel in space. No one has been to Middle Earth (except apparently anyone who has been to New Zealand). And yet, these works can be written, and read, and understood.

So that is the crux of the matter: it’s about understanding. The writer should understand what they are including in their book: understand the language they are using, understand the grammar and words; understand the characters they are including, their psychology and experiences; understand the setting and the things that happen there, whether that’s the climate or how the people fight or what they eat for breakfast.

And maybe you don’t have to know all of those things. And certainly you don’t have to have experienced them all yourself. But the writer should have an understanding of these things – whether that comes from education, research, reading, experiences, talking to people or experts, or wild extrapolation.

Because when you understand it, and put it in such that it makes sense and is believable, your readers will get it too. Not to say all writing must be realistic in that it is only real things that happen; however, the things that happen should be internally consistent, should have a realism within the world they are in. Whether that’s how alien technologies work or magic systems or biology or computer software (No click enhance! Bad!). By understanding these things happening, you can create that consistency, make things make sense, and have their own logic. And then your readers will understand, too.

What do you think? Write What You Know? How much do you need to understand? Let me know in the comments down below!

R – Realism

RI recently hit back upon the literary terms Realistic and Romantic literature. It was the topic of what is maybe the best blog post I have written. I thought it would be good to consider them a moment here with the A to Z Challenge.

Realistic fiction is, to me, set here in our real world, or very near to it. Here we see people a little like us, or maybe a little not like us, handling situations we might find ourselves in. For me, reading something like this is kind of like playing a sports video game: something that, if I wanted to experience it myself, I would just go out and do it. However, there are plenty of people who read these sorts of works, who love them, all that.

Romantic fiction, meanwhile, is the sort of fiction full of experiences outside of the ordinary. Be it sword and sorcery, space and aliens, steam and gears, angels and demons… You can do whatever you want in romantic literature. This is the realm where geeks live and thrive, and if my other blog Comparative Geeks didn’t give it away, I would definitely call myself a geek. This is my stuff – this is what I consume, what I hope to create, and what I defend when I write posts like this.

And by defend, I mean that there are often cases where large parts of romantic literature are discounted – in academic scholarship, in the “canon” and what is taught in schools, etc. Some of my main frustration, though, comes when dealing with someone who does not *get* the idea of romantic literature, of fantasy and science fiction and fiction in general. The sort of person who is the opposite of me, who reads only realistic works.

Because while I can wholly understand what realistic literature is, what sorts of experiences it might contain within it, and what sorts of characters, that doesn’t mean I have to read it. However, for the person who doesn’t really touch romantic literature – they may not wholly get the idea of it, or the appeal. They often, in my opinion, miss out on the very idea of imagination and fiction in writing. My favorite example is still probably the Da Vinci Code, which had people up in arms against it, as though it was presenting truth. It’s fiction, everybody.

I guess I technically chose the term Realism, so let me close by saying that realism is important in either type of writing. Realism can be created by following realistic chains of cause and effect, or the laws of physics, or a solid understanding of how people act and react, or any number of other subtle or overt measures. And, by removing elements of the real world, it is often even more important that there are elements which hold down realism – like having internally-consistent rules for how magic works within a fantasy universe.

It stands out when realism is thrown out the window, and if done, should be done on purpose. Whether it’s magical realism or adult animated TV shows (The Simpsons, Family Guy, South Park… realism tells us Kenny is assuredly dead), the lack of realism can stand out, and can be used purposefully to tell a story as well.

Oh, and Romantic Literature need not have a romance in it, though that doesn’t seem to stop it from happening…

I feel like I should have a question and I don’t. What are your thoughts on these two large groupings of literature? Let me know!

%d bloggers like this: