A Padawan’s Journal, Entry #24: Reality is in the Nuts and Bolts

r2d2No, I do not mean that the reality of Star Wars and the GFFA is in the mechanical members of the cast. (Well, perhaps it is, but that’s a different discussion.)

What I meant was something that mainstream author Anna Quindlen said that has stuck with me for-absolutely-ever. She said that when it comes to writing fiction, “Reality is in the dishes.”

Let’s get real—nobody does dishes in a Star Wars novel, but there are lots of nuts and bolts, so I think the idea translates well. Here’s what Anna means: When you’re writing a story, you need to connect with the reader at the human level, since most readers are (for the time being, at least) human in the sense that they come from this planet. This means you have to get the little, itty-bitty, details right.

What details? Hold that question.

Now, Anna is a mainstream writer. This means that she’s not dealing with droids, aliens, space battles, or evil empires. In other words, she’s not using a lot of elements that require readers to suspend their disbelief. Star Wars novels—or any science fiction or fantasy or sub-genre thereof—contain a surplus of situations that require the willing suspension of disbelief. FYI, the phrase “willing suspension of disbelief” was coined by the poet/philosopher Samuel Taylor Coleridge to justify the use of fantastic (non-realistic) elements in literature. His theory was that if those elements worked, you, Dear Reader, would accept them willingly. If they didn’t work, you wouldn’t accept them.

Reality being in the dishes (or nuts and bolts), relates directly to Coleridge’s “formula.” If I want you to suspend your disbelief that a Jedi Knight can step out of a two-mile-high building and plummet gently to a platform fifty stories below, wielding his lightsaber to dispatch flying ninja droids, I need to get the nuts and bolts extremely right to balance the fantastic.

220px-cloakofdeception_qjIt’s almost a literary parallel to Occam’s Razor, which (to over-simplify) states that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. In the fiction universe, extraordinary events require ordinary counter-balances. You’ll more readily accept my sky-diving Jedi’s extraordinary abilities if I get his nuts and bolts details right—for example, if I give him believable relationships with other characters, if I make him believable in the context of the Jedi code of honor, if I make him a three-dimensional character that acts in ways consistent with what I tell you about him. If I don’t develop his character well or have him acting in ways that are at odds with how you know a Jedi will behave, you won’t care about his extraordinary ability to battle flying ninja droids, much less believe that he can do it. In fact, if he doesn’t come up to snuff as a Jedi in the nuts and bolts aspects of Jedi-ness, you won’t believe for a second that he can control the Force well enough to avoid becoming bug splat if he really did bail out of a Coruscant high-rise.

So, the nuts and bolts we work with as we construct Holostar are the details of characterization, relationships, established facts in the GFFA, and the little “mundane” details of the way we know the Star Wars ‘verse works. That way, when Dash does something truly incredible, you’ll want to believe he can do it because his nuts and bolts are all in the right places.

Hm. That didn’t quite come out right, did it? Oh, well. You’ll still suspend your disbelief, won’t you?

Next time: Writing alien characters.

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A Padawan’s Journal, Entry #24: Reality is in the Nuts and Bolts — 1 Comment

  1. A’chu apenkee Maya and company,

    First, Maya, thank you as always for a wonderful Blog post, especially in this regard. As anyone who has been following your Posts know, this topic was touched upon in a sub-catagory context not too long ago, and again I appreciate the fact that you took the time to give your perspective on the matter in detail.

    At this moment, in the EU fan-base, there is a bit of a ‘turf’ war going on concerning the level of real world elements being introduced to the GFFA, and whether or not said elements are taking away from Star Wars’s originaly percieved sudo-fantasy angle. In essence, the purists believe that the GFFA has more to do with Lord of the Rings than pure SciFi ala Issac Asimov, Ray Bradbarry, etc, and that this should remain the fact, without getting too science driven or realistic.

    Now the counter argument, which I support, takes a stance similar to what Maya has highlighted in this blog, i.e. that reality is in the dishes, as such the GFFA can benefit from some real world aspects as long as the characters connected to these elements, either through interaction or inadvertant contact, are well flushed out and given depth. Once we manage to feel connected to a character, once we feel we know them to an extent that we would be able to recognize if they were doing some things or interacting with some things out of context, the ability to suspend disbelief becomes not only possible, but a pleasure to do.

    Now, what is adding fuel to the fire of this argument is the fact that as of recent, some authors brought into the GFFA have been doing the one thing Maya warns about, taking established characters and putting them in situations were they do not act in accordance to how they have been established since their inception, whether they be OT characters or EU characters. And yes, one could say that they have simply “changed over time” but that excuse can only hold water over a certain length of time, after that it becomes obvious that the authors are simply doing what they want, with in given guide-lines, and have forgotten the rules in order to reshape established characters as they see fit.

    As this response has gone on for too long, I’ll close by saying that I agree with Ms. Maya’s quote, in that as long as an author utilizes a character in a manner that is condusive to how said character has been established, it matters not whether the character is doing something as real and mundane as drinking a cup of Caf -if it’s in thier nature to do so- or something as ‘The Matrix’ like as leaping from the roof of one Sky-hook to another. Both Maya and Michael have proven that they can create and maintain characters in this regard, so I have nothing but faith in what we’ll see in *Holostar, -Laugh- if that remains the title. Darn you Sue Rostini…