Boring (but necessary) Backstory:
I’ve mentioned before I have two children—Eddie and Henry—and if you read the post I did before about them, you’ll know Henry is the one I have to watch out for a bit more. (Read post about my 4 year-old’s love life here.) He’s the kind who’ll do and say just about anything. He’s very much like his father in the way that his mouth has no filtering system. He’s also like someone we won’t name in the way that he’s fearless… So two weekends ago it wasn’t any great surprise when he fell from the top bunk (again) and hit his head, resulting in trip to a podunk hospital where he got a CT and a row of stitches in his forehead. Unfortunately, this couldn’t have happened at a more inopportune time because this past Friday was the first official field trip for both of my boys since starting real school… And it was to the skating rink—of course. Needless to say, young Henry didn’t get to go. Instead, I took him to see The Lion King 3D and had my eyes opened in the most bizarre way.
The Good Stuff:
So here we are, two of eight in an auditorium meant for 400 people, I’m blinking rapidly trying to let my eyes get adjusted to those blasted 3D glasses they give you. (I hate those things, by the way. My vision in my right eye is so bad, I don’t see 3D anyway, so when I have to slip off my regular glasses to put those stupid things on, I’m destined for a migraine. But my son wouldn’t wear them if I didn’t… So, on they went.) The lights dim, the previews starts, and my son drops the cap to his $4.50 Powerade they sell at the concession stand. Afraid he might spill his drink—specifically on me—now that the lid is gone, I flip open my cell phone and start looking for the cap… Found it. It was on the floor under the seats, naturally. Grumbling, I take my seat, and now I’m the popcorn AND Powerade holder (no way I’m going to pick that cap off the floor and put it on his drink). Then the movie begins.
From the start of the movie until the halfway mark, I have to remind him to be quiet no less than six times as he makes observant, but perhaps not appropriate comments during several scenes. Then, close to the halfway mark, my son makes a comment that stunned me into silence. “Mom, I didn’t think animals could talk.”
Now this isn’t some sort of genius observation that would even register in the minds of most, but to me—a fiction writer—it hit home. Quickly, I just said, “It’s just a movie. It’s not real.” But then for the next 15 minutes, I was preoccupied—and it had nothing to do with what was going on on the screen.
How many talking animal movies are there? How many of those does my family own? I can think of at least 15 of these type movies (and even a plethora with talking cars and vegetables) that sit on our DVD racks, and this is the first time it’s been questioned? Curious.
I bring this up and I found it interesting because I hear/see a lot of complaints about books and their realism. “Oh, that would never happen.” “The plot in this book was way too convoluted to believe.” “Ah huh, and it just so happened this handsome stranger was riding his horse down the lane when she went into labor and heard her muffled screams from inside the carriage? Yeah right!” “Oh, the heroine is TSTL (too stupid to live). Why would she go into a strange house at night?” “He’s a virgin at thirty? Not likely.”
They’re just books.
One of my readers and I discussed this a few months ago. Without some of these traits—a heroine who walks into a darkened house, is attacked, and needs the hero to save her; or a penniless earl so desperate for funds, he makes a ridiculous bargain with a lovesick schemer and ends up falling in love; or a woman so embarrassed a man she doesn’t like saw her naked and she decides to exact her revenge and ends up married to him; or twin sisters who decide to switch places, thus resulting in the wrong, perhaps less socially inclined sister getting married and the dashing hero falling in love with her; or a woman who slips from a boat traveling on a river, hits her head as she falls, thus resulting in amnesia, then the hero just happens to be on the shore, spots her body, rescues her, and falls in love with her while nursing her back to health even though neither knows her older brother and the hero are sworn enemies—then you don’t have a story. Fiction books are just that. They’re pretend. They play on the “what if” card.
Think about this, if the heroine was always smart, brave, or not shrewish, what need would she have for a hero besides procreation? None. That’s why she needs to have one (or more) of those characteristics so she can have someone to come to her aid to protect her. Or to save her from herself. Or, heaven help that hero, tame her. That’s what makes books fun.
Technically speaking, “love matches” were rare at best until just a few decades ago. In the 1800s, almost all marriages—no matter which country—were arranged. Some still are in certain parts of the world. Of those arranged marriages, many were not happy arrangements, nor did they fall in love later. That’s just the facts. If they weren’t arranged, or someone became a widow(er) and got to “pick”, it was most likely they married based on who was available, not who they loved. (Granted, there were elopements, but that was not the usual way of things.) That’s why there’s fiction. It creates a chance to go to a different time and place, and let people go against the “norm” and fall in love.
(There’s another lapse in logic I see in 99% of books, but I won’t even get into that today. Most of you know what I’m talking about, but that’s a post for a different day.)
It’s funny how quickly we accept talking animals, action movies with guns that shoot hundreds of bullets before getting reloaded, and unrealistic romantic match ups in movies or on TV; but quickly get turned off to books that bend the rules of logic like a blackmailed or reluctant hero, or a strong-willed, yet too-quick-to-action-for-her-own-good heroine, but not others like the fact that the book is even about a love match when that would never happen back then, nor would the be shaking they sheets before they married.
Keep that in mind today, or any other day, when you’re scanning through titles, looking for something to read. If a book was always logical, and always kept tightly to the constraints of time period rules, etiquette, norms or realism, they’re be very few books out there, and they’d all be boring. Books that push the boundaries of believability just enough to offer an entertaining story that captures your attention make for much better reading. Don’t think too hard about them, as I said before, they’re just books.