Tuesday, February 21, 2012

I've Got a Theory: Of real life and hand models

When I was in 5th grade, my parents realized I could paint, and signed me up for the only painting class around-- with an instructor who taught landscape painting. I began to look at the world through the eyes of a painter. Sometimes I'd look at a crazy tree or an incredibly strange sunset and think, If I ever painted that, it would look like I messed up. No one would ever believe that actually occurred in real life!

To illustrate my point, I've taken to hand modeling. Only instead of showing how soft my hands are after using a certain dish soap, I posed in the craziest ways possible.

(Clearly, I have led the life of a bona fide HAND MODEL.)

Crazy, right? But as you can see, also TOTALLY REAL. (Different length fingernails and all.) HOWEVER, if I were to sketch any of these poses, even if I got them completely right, you'd think I was a crap artist, right? Because really, it wouldn't look correct at all.

Which brings me to my theory.

Just like some landscapes (or crazy hands) wouldn't be believable in a painting, 
some things that happen in real life wouldn't be believable in a book.

We work REALLY HARD to make things believable in our books, right? We set things up like crazy, foreshadow, and bring out the parts of our characters' personalities that need to be brought out before certain scenes. That way, when we have larger-than-life scenes/issues/conflicts, they feel right. Like the book just wouldn't be perfect without it. We might want it to surprise our reader, but at the same time, we want it to have felt inevitable the whole time.

In real life, everything is set up, foreshadowed, and personalities are completely developed. And some things STILL don't seem believable! So I guess it's not surprising that real-life things a lot of times don't work when we transfer them to a book.

Have you ever tried to add a real-life crazy story in your manuscript (or read one in a novel), and found that it just really didn't work? I'm not talking about the normal, true-to-life things, but the crazy can-you-believe-that-just-happened things. Do you think there can be a place for them if you set it up right?


Kelley said...

There have definitely been moments where I'm like, 'THIS would be awesome in a MS!'

I sit down, so excited, and get it on 'paper'.

Then I have someone else read it and they're like, that would never happen...

But it did!!! :) haha

Angela Cothran said...

LOL! Real life crazy :) It's funny that sometimes life is weirder than fiction.

And sometimes I look at the gorgeous mountains behind my house and think they look completely fake. Ha!

Nicole Mc said...

I was sort of thinking of this last night but in a different way. I was watching the commercial for that new show coming out where the man has two realities and doesn't know which is real or a dream?? Anyone?? lol I think it's called Awake.

Anyway, I was thinking of what a great concept that was. But then I started wondering if that would even work in a book format. How would an author pull that off without being weird and convoluted. I'm sure someone could do it, but it would be tough. I thought on that—who knows why— for like five minutes. (or until Smash came back on!!) But same idea, some things might work in television or movies...or real life, but not in books. Interesting post. Love your hand modeling, you might "try your hand at that!" Okay, I'll shut up now. yikes.

K. Turley (Clutzattack) said...

I was making up stories for half of your hands and picturing the body I'd attach to it.

Those really are some weird hand poses.

Clarissa Draper said...

Love your hands! But, you're right, it's difficult to pull those things off in a novel if you aren't writing a genre that fits. For example, when I write my mysteries, I can't. However, I've written a lighter, chick lit and put in some pretty wacky things.

Writer Pat Newcombe said...

I tried once to do just that - put a real-life event into my story. But it just didn't seem real enough?? So I took it out. They do say fact is stranger than fiction?

Colin Smith said...

Another take on this is to remember that what we write is *fiction.* This means that what happens in our novels doesn't have to be believable. (I mean, how many kids really think Hogwarts exists? They may like to believe it does, but they know better.) All we have to do is convey a sense of realism, or at least consistency within the bounds of our worlds (or stories). Unless we write historical fiction, no-one's going to go fact-checking on your made-up world. And even within historical fiction, because it's still fiction, only the most nit-picky reader is not going to allow you some creative latitude.

So, yes, while some real-life occurrences can be stranger than fiction, our fiction doesn't have to be more real than reality. :)

Ruth Josse said...

Oh Peggy. This might be one of my favorite posts so far. A lot of that has to do with the hand pictures. They're making me giggle. But in all seriousness, crazy is crazy. Although we read books to dive into other worlds and get away for a while, we still like things to make sense. And sometimes those crazy, real life situations make no sense at all.

Kristine said...

As a reader, those crazy things are harder to believe in a book than if my friend told me about it happening to her. I think it's because as you are reading, you know that what you are reading is the author's imagination. To read a crazy incident it would feel the author made that up.

Patti said...

I think there's a certain suspension of disbelief when you're reading. I can accept most anything as long as it's set up and doesn't come out of the blue.

I can't say I've used a real life scenario in my writing, but mostly because my life is pretty boring.

Laura Josephsen said...

Ha! You know, usually I would have said crazy things happen in books that wouldn't happen in real life, but I suppose it works the other way around, too!

You have awesome hands. I could never keep my fingernails like that. Years of violin lessons as a teenager taught me to cut them, and now with Taekwondo, I couldn't have them long even if I could stand it. ;)

Z said...

Yes and yes! I hope they pay you millions in the hand model industry, 'cause...wow.

Sometimes while writing I come up with TOTALLY insane things and they seem 100% plausible in the story. BUT--when I write perfectly normal things like what happened to me in the 4th grade lunchroom, people scoff, because it's ridiculously unrealistic.

Weird how that works.

Annalisa Crawford said...

It's the coincidences you accept in reality that stand out as being a cop-out in fiction. We expect our MCs to fight their way out of a problem. If coincidence was acceptible, there'd be no conflict; no conflict, no story. It makes sense in a very roundabout kind of way.

Angela Brown said...

There have been some situations that I've considered adding to an MS. But when I think about them, I laugh realizing the readers would have a hard time with the reality of the situation, even in a nice fiction.

Briane P said...

I haven't tried to add unbelievable real life stories, but I know what you're talking about, and here's why:

When I hear people call in to radio shows and they tell some story, I am 99.9% of the time thinking "BS!" I routinely assume that EVERY SINGLE THING a person says to a radio host is 100% untrue, and the more interesting it sounds, the more I'm convinced the person made it up.

So if you call in and talk about the time you met Neil Young and he was really cool and showed you how to play C7minor on the guitar and then the two of you went line dancing, even if it happened, I'm assuming you're lying and spent the afternoon sitting around listening to Neil Young CDs and getting stoned.

Boy, I went to kind of a weird place there.

I love the brachiosaur hand model!

Jenny S. Morris said...

I worry about that with a book I'm tossing around in my head. It's all real stuff that's happened to my SIL (while dating) and I just don't know how well it will translate.

Love your hands! ;0)

Carrie Butler said...

Bahahaha! As soon as I saw the title, I immediately thought of that video! (I'm still laughing.) Great post! :)

Rebecca Belliston said...

I've heard it said that the difference between fiction and non-fiction is that fiction has to be believable. I would agree wholeheartedly. I just watched a movie that had me rolling my eyes until I heard it was based on a true story. So...yeah.

Bea Sempere (Denise Baer) said...

Nice post. Love the hand poses.

Michelle Dennis Evans said...

I have read a few that just didn't seem real to me. I have written several and afterwards deleted.
Love those hands.... My high school friends all thought I should have been a hand model... So those poses made me giggle

Leigh Covington said...

This is totally true, and I just can't get over the awesome hand modeling. This sounds weird... but you've got nice hands! I totally bite my nails! :/ *cringe*

Iain said...

I've got to hand it to you. This is a great post :o)

i'm erin. said...

Dang it! Iain took my comment. Ugh. Those hand shapes are creepy. And hand models are creepy. but I like the idea too.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

When I'm reading or writing I like to put myself in the scenes, so when I come across something that doesn't fit it really bothers me.

Peggy Eddleman said...

Kelley-- It kills me how much that can happen! It's hilarious, it is.

Angela-- I know! Sometimes views can be so unreal! I guess its something that we can only appreciate in real life.

Nicole-- Bahahaha! "Try your hand at that!" Love it! I hadn't really thought about how much some topics just can't be done well in books that work well in movies. Or really, vice versa. There are some books that just really aren't conducive to being made into movies!

K-- Hahaha! Picturing the body attached! I laughed a long time on that one.

Clarissa-- Great point! Genre makes such a huge difference in how much you can get away with! Especially when you write humor. :D

Writer Pat-- I love it! It didn't seem real enough! So fascinating how that is.

Colin-- That was deep. And I agree. The juxtaposition of being being believable and being fantastical is so intriguing! Our job really rocks, doesn't it.

Ruth-- Hehehe! Glad I could make you giggle. And I think you hit the nail on the head-- "those crazy, real life situations make no sense at all."

Kristine-- Excellent point! Even though I KNOW they're making everything up, I don't want to FEEL like they're making everything up. You know?

Patti-- I think that's the hugest point right there-- As long as it's set up and doesn't come out of the blue. Maybe that's where all the problem lies. Some crazy situations just can't be set up enough.

Laura-- It does work both ways! So funny! And awesome hands, really? I love you times a hundred.

Z-- Bahaha! Yes, millions. That's my real day job. Writing is just a side thing I do. ;) And I love how weird that works! Completely fascinating.

Annalisa-- Ahh, coincidences. Great point! They'd sure be an easy way to accomplish things in fiction, wouldn't they? Too bad you can only use them for bad things too happen. ;)

Angela-- Sigh. Because some of those crazy life things are really interesting!

Briane-- Hahaha! I LOVED where you went with that! And I totally get where you're coming from, too.

Jenny-- A book with tons of funny dating stories is actually one of the few places that I think it can really work. I keep trying to get my friend to write some of her crazy boy-stalking stories into a how-to-stalk-a-boy book. So far, she's not biting, but I think it would be so cool!

Carrie-- Doesn't that video KILL you? I watched it again last night with my daughter and just marveled at it. Seriously, you use your hands for NOTHING and you're still THAT in love with them?

Rebecca-- Hahaha! That's so funny! I guess the real life things really do stand out.

Bea-- Thanks. I trained long and hard to be able to do that. ;)

Michelle-- I want to see your hands now! You should do a hand model post. Show us what you've got!

Leigh-- Wow! That's so sweet! And yes. The hand modeling was SO awesome. I've got my sights set on taking over that lady's job in the video link...

Iain-- Bahahaha! You slay me.

Erin-- I am buying you a "How to be a hand model" video for your next birthday.

Sharon-- Yes! That's totally it!

Tonja said...

My daughter wrote a piece of flash fiction last year. My husband and I were the characters. She nailed us. And the teacher took points off because the characters weren't believable.