Saturday, October 11, 2014

Reality in My Fantasy, Thank You

I love a good fantasy. I adore science fiction. One reason why I don't write it is because I don't want to do it badly. Because, dear reader, when either fantasy or sci-fi are not done well, you'll lose a reader forever.

If you're going to do time travel to the past, you must make that past accurately believable. The future may be easier to manipulate because it is unknown, but there are still aspects that must evolve from a reality the reader can identify, making it easier to step into that world wholeheartedly.

At the risk of sounding like the old lady grouch I am, let me provide an example. The new television show Forever has as its premise a doctor who cannot die, "cursed" so to speak to remain aged thirty-five, and who always returns from his death in a body of water. I like a good immortal that doesn't suck blood, a la Doctor Who himself and one of his friends, Captain Jack Harkness. The Doctor "regenerates" (usually into a completely different actor) to remain viable, while Captain Jack literally gasps back to life after a short period of time. One quite elegant, the other often comedic, but both explained well enough to be plausible.

Not so with the new show. I watched the first episode and cringed so many times my neck hurt. Firstly, the historical aspects. About the only thing they got right was the fact the slaving ship was made of wood. The show explains Dr. Henry Morgan is shot and thrown overboard with his special pocket watch for trying to treat a slave as a human being. In reality they would have killed the slave for being sick to prevent losing others, not the doctor. But ooooooooookay, I'll let it ride to get the story started.

Move to present day New York. This doctor is supposed to be Sherlockian with great powers of observation which he uses to hit on a Russian cellist with chocolate smeared on her face riding the subway to a performance without her cello. He's just wormed his way into a date when the train crashes and everyone is killed. He's impaled with a shiny clean pole, his special pocket watch strewn across the car away from his body. Then he's shown splashing up out of the Hudson River, naked of course, and getting arrested for indecent exposure. What happened to his clothes? Why the Hudson? Why not Long Island Sound or the sewer or a bathtub in Greenwich?

Flash to the female cop sneaking out of a man's house in her walk of shame only to be confronted by the guy because she grabbed the wrong phone. He insinuates she's cheating on her husband, she says she was trying just to get away without making too much of a big deal--and then pulls away from the curb with her police lights flashing. Oh gawd, pain of brain freeze. So much for not making a big deal...

Morgan is now the NYC medical examiner whose assistant spews off a list of possible causes of death for the conductor of the subway train which includes exsanguination--total blood loss. A few scenes later, Morgan goes back to examine the corpse for a needle puncture--which should have been done on the initial cursory examination of an autopsy looking for marks, bruises, scars, etc.--but no, our undying doc sliced and diced first. Then he returns again and easily draws a vial of blood from the corpse that is rather ruby colored. OW! More brain freeze. 1) If exsanguination was a possibility, there would be no blood to draw, and 2) it would be black post mortem, not ruby red. 

It went on to show us a very fat baby from a concentration camp whose tattooed numbers were on the outer left arm, carried by a nurse in a bombed city still afire. Flash to the present day baby now sixty-five with the numbers still proportionate to what they were on the baby arm. No. The nurse turned out to have been the love of Morgan's unending life whom he pines over still. So much so that he was creepily picking up a Russian cellist on the subway? 

My point is, is you're going to expect people to buy into your fantasy, you have to base it on at least a modicum of reality. If you're going to show history, it has to be somewhat accurate. If you're going to show human frailties, they have to be consistently believable. This is important to remember in whatever you're writing. Be consistent, be accurate, and show enough realism for your readers to relate. Otherwise they'll toss the book or purge their reader-- just as I flipped the channel, never to return.

Happy writing,

~Jude
http://jude-johnson.com







7 comments:

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

The actor is Welsh. He had my attention until...

I agree with the forensic snafus. The fact checkers could have saved that from silliness.

PS: What did you think of the Highlander series?

Jude Johnson said...

Yes, Welsh actor (though not overly proud of it nor kind to fans, so not my draw), interesting premise, then pffffffffffft. I honestly blame the writers and director for totally mishandling what could have been something at least entertaining. But the glaring errors in both forensics (hadn't anyone on that crew watched CSI?) and historical information [starving people at concentration camps don't have obviously fat healthy babies let alone have a nurse just walk up to this doctor in a burning city with one like "ooh look what I found in the rubbish"] made it torturous to watch.

I found Highlander disappointing for other reasons, more on the film making level (too much narration beyond initial explanation--show don't tell) but the scenery was lovely. I liked the actor cast for Jamie but had issues with the other two leads. Personal taste, I suppose, for my other friends adored it.

Still, Outlander was much better than this "forever" mess.

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

Do you mean Outlander? Jamie is perfect in that. The love scene was amazing.

Adrian somebody was the immortal swordsman in Highlander. "There can be only one."

Jude Johnson said...

Oh duh. Yes I liked Highlander! And so so on Outlander. HA HA HA HA I think I should have had more coffee this morning.

Liz Fountain said...

Just put a book (which will remain nameless) down for the same reason. After a while the improbabilities and incredulities overwhelmed the story itself.

Thanks for the good reminder!

Liz

Big Mike said...

Indeed, writing SF is a tight rope between enough fact based speculation to convey reality without so much the reader screams "Enough!"

Michael Davis (Davisstories.com)
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)

Big Mike said...

Indeed, writing SF is a tight rope between enough fact based speculation to convey reality without so much the reader screams "Enough!"

Michael Davis (Davisstories.com)
Author of the Year (2008 and 2009)
Award of Excellence (2012)