follow a rookie writing his first novel

Not about real life

We all know that novels are fiction. I don’t mean just in the sense of whether the events portrayed actually happened, but also what events the novel contains. Think about it; when was the last time that a novel you read contained events that had absolutely no bearing on the plot – for example, someone getting their hair cut, or dyed a different colour. Or going to bed, or the toilet. We all do these things (yes, even I had the front of my hair dyed gold in the 70’s), but in a novel they are rarely if ever mentioned unless it has a direct bearing on the story.

I can think of a few exceptions off the top of my head. The girl with the dragon tattoo trilogy for example seems to have a curious fascination with people’s coffee drinking habits; incidentally, I read another crime fiction novel by a different Swedish writer and that did the same, so maybe its a cultural thing. I also read a book called ‘Don Juan and the art of sexual energy’ which kept describing what people were eating for their meals for no particular reason that I could fathom. In these cases because it isn’t the usually done thing, it draws our attention and we can find ourselves almost waiting for the next time the author does it, which distracts from the plot.

Then there is the dialogue. In a novel it is always neat and crisp and to the point. Rarely if ever do we see the ‘ums’ and ‘errs’ that litter normal speech, unless it is to make a point. Dialogue as written in a novel then is really too good to be true.

Taken together then, actions and dialogue, as written, bear little resemblance to reality and yet somehow, when read it seems so right. A piece of prose written as close to reality as possible is almost unreadable or at best boring as hell. Am I the only one that finds this fascinating and strange? What is your opinion…



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5 thoughts on “Not about real life

  1. In certain genres I have to agree with some of your points. One of my bugbears is dialogue that is not matched to character or the time within which the novel is set. The biggest thing that annoys me is the reader pesuming that everything an author or poet writes is autobiographical?

    • Dialogue mismatch grates with me too, especially when all the characters seem to have the same voice.

      • Henry James made it work to have all his characters speak the same. The rest of us, we’re not Henry James, so we’d better work at this. πŸ™‚

        And dialogue that isn’t right for the time is important, too. My stuff isn’t contemporary, so I’m always trying to be careful not to include modern slang.

  2. The Millennium books are also obsessed with the specifics of computer hardware. But both excesses may be related to the fact that Larsson was a journalist, which is a different discipline with different rules.

    I am fine with the non-realistic aspects of fiction. Not only do my characters (mostly) not hem & haw, my main character, the detective, speaks in a very elevated way, precise and theatrical (especially in public — less so in private). Because she is somebody who would speak that way.

    I’m fairly certain that the kings of England didn’t actually speak in blank verse, and the participants in the June Rebellion in France didn’t sing all their conversations. πŸ™‚

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