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Writing: Suspension in Belief of Reality: Conversations - The Autobiography of Russell
Life from a different perspective
zimzat
zimzat
Writing: Suspension in Belief of Reality: Conversations
When we read any sort of fiction there is a required suspension in our belief of reality. Whether it's magic that can demolish mountains, spaceships that can shoot giant lasers and travel to other solar systems, or even differences in history, it requires us to believe that the world we read about is possible. On the other hand there are a number of subtle suspensions that we may not realize. Some authors recognize when they do this, but I don't think nearly enough of them do.

One way this happens is often to do with speech, or conversations. In certain circles, such as pen and paper role playing or comics, it's known as "Speech is a free action". This essentially means that a bomb could go off in 5 seconds, yet they could monologue for five minutes and still have time to disarm the bomb. Now, the example of 5 seconds versus 5 minutes stretches it to a point where anyone can notice it, but more often than not it's much more subtle than that. The time it takes to swing a sword, for example, versus say even one sentence between blows. If you were to stand up right now, grab the closest stick or pole, and swing it a couple of times, you'd find it hard to say a sentence at the same time, much less between swings. This is also especially true of writing where we get to hear their conscious thoughts.

Another subtle way that conversations are affected is by how they get interrupted. Rarely do we find a conversation is interrupted in the middle of a topic. Let's say two good guy characters are talking about the weather. They'll manage to talk about today's weather, tomorrow's weather, and last week's weather, but it's not until they start talking about last month's or last year's weather, and we the reader start to get bored with talking about the weather, that they get interrupted by something, whether that's a bad guy blowing up the building, or space ship, or someone else entering the room. Go back and read a few books where you remember conversations getting interrupted, and then ask yourself if there was anything more to actually be said about the topic that was interrupted. If the answer is no, chances are the author used the interruption to finish a conversation they weren't sure how to continue. It's not hard to do that without even realizing it, though, because it's so easy to see that plot device as poetic or humorous when we think about the pie in the sky imagining how a scene plays out.

My personal pet peeve, regarding conversations, is how two characters will frequently say each others name during the conversation when they're the only two possibly talking to each other. For example, "Good morning, Bob" is okay, but when the conversation has been going for a few sentences and they say "I know you like that lady, Bob" it gets overused. Absolutely no one that I know uses someones name in conversation, except maybe (maybe!) as part of the greeting, when there's only one person they're talking to. They absolutely do not use it every other sentence. I know some writing workshops may recommend using character names as part of conversation in order to introduce them, but you have to be very careful to only do it when you as a person would actually use their name when talking to them. Two characters that have known each other for years just wouldn't do it.

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From: anarchomo Date: June 19th, 2012 09:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
Agreed. Where it gets sticky is that when you're telling a story, you have to "cheat," because reality is slow and ugly. In theatre, actors don't directly face each other, they turn about halfway toward the audience or else we wouldn't be able to see their faces. There are a thousand little things like that that are unreal but make drama more fun than real life.

The biggest one that immediately comes to mind is how you have to clean up dialogue. Real-life conversations are meandering and full of ums and ers and false starts and lost threads. It's not much fun to read transcripts of it. So you have to make it flow better. But if you're too obvious about that, then yeah, it gets to be distractingly pat and fake.

Fantasy has big problems with this because you can "cheat" the whole world and have everything come out in a satisfying way because magic. I watched Snow White and the Huntsman last night and almost walked out because it was so bad about that. I can imagine the meetings where people were like, "this is fantasy, don't worry to much about whether it makes sense. Anything goes here!" As a result of which it was the bad kind of fantasy, where everything worked in perfect service to the planned narrative arc and you couldn't even pretend for a minute that there was real world there. But there's an other extreme where things are too real. Even documentaries and newspaper articles are heavily edited--get too close to "reality" and you lose the things we tell stories for.
zimzat From: zimzat Date: June 19th, 2012 10:57 pm (UTC) (Link)
I do remember that one about theatre. Our drama teacher was huge on that issue, and also huge on correcting people when they did something really stupid in the pursuit of that that broke the illusion.

I can sort of see what you mean about the umms and errs, but my sister went to Toastmasters where she had to pay either 5¢ or 10¢ for each "umm" or "err" or other pause when giving a speech. That also helped me find ways to limit the number of times that I need to pause as talking. It still happens from time to time, even within the same conversation (especially when talking out loud as I type, as I am doing now), but not nearly as bad I see a number of people doing. Mostly I remind myself to think ahead as I'm speaking so I already know what to say next (this can cause typing to start jumping words or even half a sentence, though).

I need to go to the theater again some day, when I need to just get out of the apartment and be entertained for a few hours.
(Deleted comment)
zimzat From: zimzat Date: June 20th, 2012 03:50 am (UTC) (Link)
What is this, passive aggressive? Not every comment requires a response, or even has something to respond to. I've been very much absent from online communication the last few weeks because I've been very busy. If you're going to scream (and misspell!) my name then don't bother.
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