Saturday, 16 May 2020

On Reality, Logic, and Happy Fiction

This is a culmination of isolated thoughts about what I see in stories and genre fandom, started largely by the furor over Game of Thrones season 8 and drawn together by Acquadimore's recent blog post that I will keep shouting about.

There is one tie-in point here and I wish to Thor I could think who said it, and that is, when audiences complain about plot holes they basically mean they're dissatisfied with the story as a whole.

I find that theory very convincing. Yes, there's times when audiences will sit bolt upright and go "Oh come on!" in a fit of straight up exasperation regardless of how they felt before. However, does the audience remain annoyed, or sit back and enjoyed? If it is the latter, they're happy with the story. Maybe they'll complain about the story later but not in a serious way. It's when they remain annoyed that they have a problem with the story and will be complaining later about plot holes, or realism, or whatever.

There's a lot of talk about realism in fantasy these days. Acqua's blog post covers one angle, as driven by Sanderson's worldbuilding theories being taken a couple of steps beyond the man ever seemed to have intended. Then there's the interesting takes about how it's unrealistic that there'd have been a gay character in that 'time period'. Then there's the people going just going 'its fantasy not reality' at other things such as complaining about the awful tactics in Game of Thrones. Then there's all the people going "blurb not realistic" about fantasy that strays from social history on other issues. And on and on.

I have, at various points, been annoyed at just about every part of this. The zeroing in on gender and sexuality while ignoring all other concerns is just mean-spirited at very best. The insistence that fantasy should be accurate historical fiction with supernatural conceits tacked on strikes me as ludicrous as a general rule and indicative of a lack of flexible thinking on readers' behalves in the specific - if the intention is clearly not to mirror history, why not read like such is the case? On the other hand though, a story being fantasy doesn't mean everything about it is fantasy and free of the need to make some degree of sense. Everybody is free to say "I don't care if it was stupid, it was fun" but when trying to defend stupid with "you shouldn't care about stupid, it's fantasy", it debases the whole genre and ignores the need for some sort of framework for the reader to follow, as set out by Lloyd Alexander so cogently. 

I use the word framework very deliberately. Reality itself is (again borrowing from Alexander) "often illogical, inconsistent, a kind of elaborate random walk". People will say they want realistic fiction, but the demand for fiction that actually completely maps to reality is non-existent, for the reason given above. Even stories based on real events will omit or change details to get a narrative that works to people's satisfaction. We need a sense of realism - verisimilitude - a framework of cause and effect that means there can be a sensible narrative rather than the author doing whatever.

It is the fear of the author doing whatever that is, in my humble opinion, that lies at the bottom of a lot of this (particularly the bits not rooted in culture wars). Hard magic systems are there so the reader understands the author's framework and therefore can have trust of the author. That trust doesn't make the stories more real-realistic, but it does in terms of verisimilitude and what is commonly called realism. A similar thing is happening with the demands for historical accuracy, for realistic economies and so on. Yes, there is more to it. Historical accuracy ties into accurate depiction of cultures, realistic economies are part of an expansion of fantasy, the explosion of fantasy gaming leads to literature reflecting its rule sets, and so on. But if that was all there was to it, there wouldn't be so many strictures about it. There wouldn't be so many explosions when it goes wrong. 

As such, it is my considered opinion that the fantasy genre would be a better and happier place for a little more trust. Authors believing they can sell the audience on their framework and 'realism' without needing to into painstaking detail. Audiences trusting authors not to abuse fantasy conceits for unforeseen machina ex deus moments (which happens enough with hard magic systems anyway). If we all choose to believe in well told stories over systems, we will be believing in the right think.

And when do we complain, let us complain about what actually went wrong, which is to say narratives that did not present their arguments well. Yes, 'didn't match my idea of reality' will cover a lot of 'and why did you not buy the argument', but keeping to the proper order of things means focus is where it is due. 

Storytelling. 

Creating convincing narratives. 

And not trying to bypass the need through detailed systems imposing an order reality never had and that fantasy should consider very optional.

No comments:

Post a comment