That Would Never Happen

I write fiction. I do it because I like to tell stories, stories of unusual people doing unusual things in unusual places, stories of extraordinary events that change lives and create purpose.

The most important word in that last paragraph is unusual, which is why I used it three times. I figured it should stand out, because it seems like a lot of people are missing the point.

All too often I hear a critic (typically an armchair critic) pull out the nobody-ever-does-that card. They concentrate their rage on a decision a character makes or a situation that occurs that they believe is illogical and absurd.

The problem is that those illogical and absurd events are often the driving force behind the entire story in the first place. Throughout history people have been making illogical choices that have shaped how that history turned out. Absurd events have influenced the modern world as much as logical, well-thought out choices.

If I write a film about the Revolutionary War, focused on the burning of Washington D.C., and the big plot point in the third act is a tornado that comes out of nowhere, puts out all the fires in the city and scatters the British army, people would start tearing me apart when the first trailers hit YouTube. The fact that it actually happened would finally tone them down, but it sounds completely ludicrous. Imagine the anger that would erupt if I tied the tornado (the first in D.C. recorded history, mind you) to a descendent of a Salem Witch who’s character arc hinges on the fact that she is religiously oppressed even in a society that espouses “freedom of religion.” We watch her struggle against the church to the point that she is imprisoned in a DC jail during the war and summons the tornado to save the US, even though she loses her life in the process.

The point of fiction – one of the points, at least – is that anything can happen. If anything, historical fiction is often more plausible than actual history because the author corrects something absurd that happened in the past and then pay immaculate attention to detail when mapping out the “logical” events that follow.

Modern fiction is even more rife with critics pitching a fit about how silly something is. My favorite argument is the “he could never get her” complaints that show up every time a Beauty and the Beast rom-com shows up. I mean, seriously, do you think the chubby stoner that Seth Rogen plays in Knocked Up could ever land someone like Katherine Heigl?

I mean, seriously, have you ever walked around in public? There are plenty of people in every city on the planet running around with lovers that you would never expect. Sure, people think someone like Ryan Reynolds will end up with Sandra Bullock instead of Melissa McCarthy, but both realities are possible and both can have spectacular stories attached.

Save the “that would never happen in real life” card for the completely ridiculous, and if it is a completely ridiculous comedy or avant garde flick, just take it out of the deck altogether because the film’s genre makes the argument more absurd than what happens on screen.

Creative license drives fiction. Get used to it, get over it and get with it. If you don’t like it, read nonfiction. Then we’ll be able to talk about the “that didn’t happen” card.


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Filed under Creative Writing, Life

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