Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Diagnosing Realism

Every story is created in a manner that the author is comfortable with presenting to their audience. It is wholly their creation and their perspective on a world of their own devising.

Their own creations may represent their unique perspective but every narrative that has ever been presented to the world has been subject to both editors and publishing guidelines. A filter is applied to their work so that it can be presented to their audience.

One short-hand method for authors to add tone or apply a 'gritty-realism' to their work is to utilize elements of everyday life from gut-wrenching violence to sex scenes so detailed an artist could count the freckles to extensive use swearing that could put a sailor to shame. These elements bring the audience into a 'real world' and pull them in with their spell.

Or do they?

In many instances authors may use these elements as a means to apply realism to the world but are they really necessary? The power of writing is that it lets the audience take control with their imagination. The audience is what truly brings the piece to life. If too many of these elements are laced within the narrative what does it accomplish? Interestingly enough, not what one would think.

As these elements of 'gritty realism' are laced throughout the piece it may assist in world building but as the levels of these elements increase the author is actually decreasing their potential audience. In most instances of 'harsh language' it is actually superfluous. Much like adding extensive dialect to a piece, adding language is the same as repeating a detail. Not only can the audience already understand the details they may actually grow tired of it. This is why editors and publishers may filter these elements. They want a piece to reach as wide an audience as possible.

Adding 'gritty realism' to a piece can work really well but the levels of these elements will actually dictate the potential audience. Is it really wise to keep reducing the size of that audience?


Michele Shaw said...

Great post! I always try to look at as, "Does this enhance, or detract? Is it a gimmick or really needed?" When I can answer those questions honestly, then I know what stays and what gets cut.

Jacqvern said...

Quote: "The audience is what truly brings the piece to life." Loved this :)

Well, everything needs a measure. Not more and not less. It should be balanced. Of course, it depends on the target audience. But you mentioned above, in order to target a wider audience, some compromises must be made.

Thank you for the thought provoking post :)

Amber said...

I do like to read certain stories with these elements, but if I step back and look at the big picture, I can see that it takes a certain element to pull it off.

This is something that we all need to be aware of, as writers.

Awesome post!

PW.Creighton said...

Michele, it is certainly that sort of thinking but we often overlook dialog with regional phrases or even cursing. It just doesn't occur to us that things like that affect viewership/audience as much as they do.

Jacqvern, thank you for the comment. Certainly everything requires a measure but many things just aren't perceived. Like dialect tags, cursing is no different than repeating a detail but it does more than that. The levels of those elements can dictate whether a story can even be viewed by another audience ...say YA. It's the larger picture that most authors fail to examine.

Amber, thanks. Yeah that's why I keep looking at things from such a critical standpoint. Sure removing a particular word may seem like it's removing an element from the story but it's more than that. It's like creating a ripple that changes everything from perceptions to the audience.

Jill Kemerer said...

Oh, I agree. Too much of anything just makes me tune out!

Kimberly Krey said...

I thought this post was truly insightful; we can definitely over do it. I've read it in books or seen it done in movies, and it turns me off.

PW.Creighton said...

Jill, thanks for the comment. Yeah, it certainly does. In an abstract sense they're just repeated details. Why repeat?

Kim thanks for stopping by! Just like any audience, when you repeat a detail it becomes old, repeated again and again it breaks the spell.

Lisa Gail Green said...

These elements are reasonable only if important to the story and/or characters. You are right, you cannot throw in these things purely for shock value, or because you think it sells. It has to be done artfully. If Mrs. Weasly swore throughout HP, would her use of the word "Bitch" at the end have had as much meaning? No way.

cherie said...

What an eloquent post!

I do agree: a repeated word or idea loses it's face value after a while. I remember reading a book where the author keeps bringing up this one 'event' over and over again. I talked to some friends who had read the book and they noticed it as well. There were admirable merits to the book, but we couldn't get past the repetition.

Always assume that your readers are smart. ;)

PW.Creighton said...

Lisa, thanks for stopping by! You are absolutely right. If used appropriately it can be one of the most powerful and poignant elements but not many think in those terms. Excellent insight.

Cherie, quite true but most writers think in terms of dialog the usual 'how we speak.' Most fail to realize that these elements are just repeated details and how they affect readership. Thanks for the comment!

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