Thursday, July 15, 2010

Let's Get Real

The other day I was reading a book and I thought it was very nice and fresh. Funny and cute. Maybe a little immature for what it was… at least for my tastes anyway. I happen to know this person’s second two books old in a significant deal (thank you Publisher’s Marketplace!) so that means this book obviously did very well.
People loved it. For me it was okay.

And then because I analyze everything I read these days I thought about that one factor that put me off slightly. It wasn’t real. Now of course fiction isn’t real… I know that! But I didn’t buy some of the dialogue. I didn’t buy the characters reactions in certain places. Again very cute and light… but things just seemed off for me.

Perfect example – at one point in the story a character slams her hand down on the table because she’s frustrated with the hero’s answer. So hard mind you that she hurts her hand. The scene is supposed to be a cute bantering back and forth between hero and heroine – not an angry exchange. And I just didn’t get that in this fit of pique someone would slam their hand down so hard on a counter top enough to hurt them. It’s an over exaggeration to get the point home that the heroine is frustrated.

But it’s not real.

It’s why Friday Night Lights appeals to me so much. Yes, it’s dramatic. Yes, the situations tend to be extreme. But what makes it compelling is that you feel like this could be real. This could be your high school, your friends, your coach. These people’s reactions to situations feel authentic.

I need that it my fiction. I need that sense that even though what I’m reading is made up I can identify with the way these characters are feeling and acting. Another perfect example – Hunger Games. Doesn’t matter that the world is completely foreign to me. I bought every moment of the heroine’s journey because I knew it was how I would feel in those situations.

So what about you out there? Do you like the exaggeration or do you need to keep it real too?

12 comments:

Travis Erwin said...

I like it real as well. I blogged about this same thing yesterday though not as eloquently as you.

Sinead M said...

Great point, Stephanie. No matter how different our worlds get, it's how authentic our character's reactions are that will make it seem real.

So smart.

And welcome to FNL.

Stephanie Doyle said...

Sinead - I can't believe I've been missing it all this time.

And so glad to see the two leads nominated for Emmies.

Kyle C's reaction when the science teacher told him about kissing his wife... right there. That expression. That's an Emmy.

Maureen McGowan said...

I like it real, too... I just judged a contest entry that had an issue like that... Characters seemed to think they were in a 1930's screwball comedy rather than in 2010 real life.

But I think one problem, particularly in contemporary fiction, is what is real? I guess the trick/skill is in developing the characters well enough that most readers believe their actions, but human behavior is so diverse and some readers expect characters to react exactly like they would, so it's hard to make it real for every reader....

But a slap so hard it hurts her hand in a scene that's not particularly angry or heated does sound OTT.

And I too welcome you to FNL fandom. :) Watch the first season. There's a small episode we talked about here a few years ago that exemplifies what you're talking about... Tim and his brother have had a huge fight. A huge physical fight, about very deep emotional things. And the way it gets resolved is brilliant. And so subtle and so real... (and involves a grilled cheese sandwich) And now it makes me think even more about the character arc Tim has taken over the seasons and how there's almost been a role reversal with those two... Hmmm..

(I recently rewatched the first season... The pilot will make you cry.)

Eileen said...

We just started FNL. Andy and I sat there after watching the pilot and almost couldn't speak. So real. So intense. I'm still not sure I can do multiple seasons of the Football as Metaphor for Life thing (I'm emotionally scarred from growing up in Lincoln, Nebraska in oh so very many ways), but there's no doubt that it's very well done.

I know what you mean about keeping the reactions real. I also read one recently where the heroine was all over the place emotionally. Playful one minute, hard-assed and confrontational the next with no motivating factors to explain the changes. The book was carried by a great storyline, but I was getting a little frustrated with the heroine after awhile.

Maureen McGowan said...

Eileen, stick with FNL. The first season is more about football than the later ones... (well, it's coming back to football a bit in the 4th season) but the first and last episodes of the first season... and the mud bowl one, are the only episodes that are really about football.

It's really about the characters and struggling in a small town, and the contrast of kids who have supportive parents and those who don't, and the pressures teens are under, and the whole thing is so anchored by the coach and his wife and their strong (but not unrealistically easy) marriage...

And boy, for me, I admit... that show is about Tim Riggins. It was also about Tyra for me, but I'm not finding I'm missing Tyra this season... maybe because of Becky. The young actress who plays her is awesome and all the vulnerability hidden by bravado and sexuality we had in Tyra has been substituted with the slightly less confident, but really sweet Becky. OMG her performance in that last episode when talking to coach's wife. So raw.

Molly O'Keefe said...

Remember when everyone was zany? Every heroine tripped on things? What the hell was that? I like to see a person fall down as much as the next guy, but zaniness was killing me.

I love me some realism - especially in a romantic comedy. It's the bitter that makes the sweet so sweet.

I missed FNL two weeks ago and I want to cry. Because every episode is a little lesson about writing - when the coach says the the former quarterback star "this is one of those conversations we have that is supremely frustrating" - he's managed to ecapsulate character, the change in relationships, the passage of time - all in one line. Killed me. And yes, you're right - Becky. Wow. oh wow. When her mother is yelling at the doctor and she's sitting there, every terrible fear and worry on her face...amazing. so freaking amazing.

Stick with it Eileen - honestly, the football falls away.

Stephanie Doyle said...

I love the relationship betwween Tim and Becky. You so thought it was going one way... and then it didn't.

When he says he's not the father... every other TV show goes in the obvious direction. He must be lying. It causes misconspetions. It impacts his life, blah, blah.

In this show.. "Oh no. I'm not the father. Just her friend." And everyone believes it and we move on.

Great. Great stuff. I'm definitely buying the previous seasons.

Stephanie Doyle said...

That word in my last comment where you might be wondering what the hell...

misconceptions...

Maureen McGowan said...

The Tim and Becky storyline is even better after seeing Tim and Tyra (and Tim and Lyla and Tim Jackie, (had to look up her name) etc. etc. etc.)

The Becky story line really shows how much he's changed. Not just a slave to his impulses anymore. Or not quite so much. Now we need to see him walk away from a few fights, too. ;)

And while I was hoping they wouldn't do the obvious with those two at the beginning of the season, now I'm totally rooting for them. I mean, he's supposed to be 18 or 19 now, right? (I'm trying to remember... He was 16 in first season, and this season he's in his first year after high school... He'd be around 18, right? And is Becky 15 or 16?

Not that big of an age gap. Can't believe I want to see them together, now, but I do. I think because she loved the piece of land he wants.

WHICH, BTW I just realized Tim mentions wanting, in the pilot episode. It was his big dream right from the start. Jason was going to be rich from his NFL career and he and Tim would live on a ranch. That show keeps the characters so true to themselves while letting them grow.

Eileen said...

This is the other thing that freaks me out about the show a little bit. MY kids are 16 and 18. I don't think of them as having such adult problems. It may be a little to eye-opening to me. :-)

Eileen said...

And, OMG, Molly! The clutzy heroine! The first time I saw Bringing Up Baby, it was adorable. When was that movie made? In the 1930s? Not that I was around to see its original release or anything . . .

I get that it's relatable. We all think we're clumsy, but I'm sick of it, too.

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