The illusion of reality.

That’s kind of what fiction is, isn’t it? Only the author gets to say ‘My reality came in a bigger glass! And it was brim-full!’

And if he or she is any good, they make it so, at least for the duration of the book, and, just every now and again, with knock-ons through life. I have to wonder how much Jack Vance’s BLUE WORLD (the first sf book I read) shaped me, let alone my fiction. I mean, it’s a book about living on what essentially are islands (made of floating weed), where an obstinate (and sometimes not too bright) hero solves problems and builds things.

No similarities there at all, right?

And there’s nothing in the fact that it’s good satire about perspective: The people living on the floats consider themselves upright, moral and good, and are organised into guilds (with great pride in membership) named after the professions of the original survivors of the star-ship crash that marooned them there…

The reader gradually realizes it was a prison ship. And yes, ALL of the guilds’ founders claimed obsessively to be fine, upright and innocent people – which might indeed describe some of their descendants, trying to live up to that ‘saintliness’.

Generating that illusion is of course the skill that sets the popular author apart from the Chavez award winners. It’s a skill, part of the craft of writing, which one can have innately – or learn to do. The good news is learning does improve anyone’s writing. The bad news is some people will still probably be better at it than you.

A big part of this is writing believable characters – people who behave like real people, fill the roles of real people within the setting you create. This is difficult if you’re playing ‘insert the correct PC tokens’ because most readers who live in the real world struggle to accept an illusion that in no way mirrors their reality.

I have found two things make or break character. Firstly, motivation. If a character responds consistently to circumstances in the way the character you have built plausibly would – that is natural and so un-noticed that it is right. If your gung ho action man hero suddenly has a three page fit of angst about whether he’s offended someone, or your fainting violet who spends hours in angst about whether to have Chamomile tea or Earl Grey suddenly displays the capacity for unthinking action… well, you better foreshadow a split personality.

Secondly, consistent and recognizable patterns of dialogue. I’d hold Mary Ryan – Tim’s Grandmother, in CHANGELING’S ISLAND as one of my better efforts at that.

(the picture is a link) BTW the paperback of CHANGELING’S ISLAND is being released on the 28th. I’m sure you saw the publicity guys at Baen letting all of you and the world know. Read the many pieces in the blog tour they organized and took advantage of the pre-order bookbub specials etc… which would be a surprise to me. (Sigh). One day publishers may learn, but the above is an example of ‘out of character’ behavior, which would break the illusion for the reader (at least the reader who is a writer).

Another useful technique used by such masters as Tim Powers and Neil Gaiman (Gaiman is not one of my favorites but he’s good at this) is the foundation – in fiction – of successfully writing ‘secret histories’ is using part of the real truth. A selective part which gives veracity. In my opinion no-one does better than Tim Powers in ‘The Anubis Gates’. You KNOW you’re being swept along for the ride, but he’s good at it.

It’s a common feature of modern journalism: take elements that are obviously plainly true, leave out the bits that would spoil the spin you want to put on the individuals, and apply bias particularly in ways at least some of your audience are likely to want to believe. The attack on Milo Yanniopolous was a masterclass in this. It is long-term destructive if you’re supposedly writing fact, not fiction, but it is very useful for suspending disbelief in fiction. If you’re writing fiction and want to suspend disbelief it’s particularly instructive to see how the background was crafted.

It was no use having its source as a left wing website: the left has been trying to ‘normalize’ pre-pubescent paedophilia for generations, let alone post-pubescent sex. In sf – Delany has been a darling of theirs, the activities of Breen were well-known, and they tried to whitewash Marion Zimmer Bradley back into favor. They love Polanski and adore Dunham. It’s the right and center who regard it with disgust. A left-source of the carefully selectively edited material would have been treated with the disdain that the left wing would have treated right wing evidence of Hillary Clinton breaking security regulations or laughing at getting a rapist to walk free. So: they faked a right wing site… And of course there are parts of the US right (I believe that neo-Nazi fellow was delighted by it) eager to believe the worst of a flamboyant homosexual, from that sort of source.

I’m mostly dis-interested, except in the ‘when they came for the Jews I said nothing, because I was not a Jew’ sense. I’ve got a short called ‘BOYS’ (which is actually about topology, but I daresay it could be selectively edited from maths to under-age sex by cutting and re-arranging the words or the letters.) I suspect it’ll all work out just as well as their attempts to de-platform Vox Day or President Donald Trump.

Which leads back to using this in writing fiction – when working on building that framework of pseudo-reality, you have to consider what your audience could believe, AND who they could believe it from. Fortunately, people do accept our work to be fiction, and are usually willing to help us along.

Talking of fiction – I had a free giveaway with my newsletter, which is now up for sale (broad hint, I will be doing this sort of thing again. Signing up has advantages for people who like my writing). As usual the picture is a link.

15 thoughts on “The illusion of reality.

  1. > one does better than Tim Powers in ‘The Anubis Gates’.

    Alas, Powers was only able to pull that trick off once. His later tries, you could see the framework, but the stories simply sprawled too much to come together.

    On the other hand, those stories seem to have sold quite well, and you are the only other person I’ve encountered who has said he liked ‘The Anubis Gates.’ I’ve given half a dozen copies of that book to people, and all of them bailed before getting very far.

    1. Loved AG. Loved loved loved it, but my favorite by far is Hide me Among the graves. Powers made the world magic with that one. One of my top favorites of all time!

  2. “It was no use having its source as a left wing website: the left has been trying to ‘normalize’ pre-pubescent paedophilia for generations, let alone post-pubescent sex.”

    Its part of their mythos. In this case, how much they care about it can be seen by the USA mainstream media response to 1500+ arrests for human trafficking: crickets.

    The Evil Trump announces a national scale take-down of multiple pedo-rings and traffickers by the feds, nobody cares. Milo has a video chopped and channeled by some bunch of “conservatives”, EVERYBODY suddenly cares.

    These are the same people who profess to adore writers for reasons of skin colour and/or personal plumbing over anything else. Yet, one of their darlings of alternate plumbing went under the bus just like interplanetary rocket science did in Shirtstorm.

    One would think that those very people of colour-and/or-plumbing would be able to tell an opportunistic two faced cultist from a genuine fan. Perhaps they can tell, and are riding the train anyway, hoping to hop off before the derailment. Good luck with that, friends.

    Seeing this type of thing happening day after day is a bit irritating. Publisher’s hiring ‘sensitivity readers’, authors sweating the race of the model on the cover of their book in case they might get a turn in the ducking chair, and the mob of poo-flingers barging in on command from the usual suspects. (I will not conjure the flying monkeys this time, they know who they are.)

    My response is to continue to write my own, because almost no-one is writing the stuff I want. Present company excepted, it goes without saying. Production continues apace.

    1. C’mon, the fact that the media reaction to Rotherham was comparatively muted compared to that stupid Bring Back Our Girls hashtag poutyface campaign says a lot.

      Finding out that before those girls were kidnapped, over 300 boy children were burned alive by Boko Haram, with nary a noise in Western media? Well, so much for “Black Lives Matter”, hey?

      1. I make an active effort to not-know about that stuff. I’m far too old to run off to war, and if I pay attention to that, I’ll have to go fight them.

  3. They haven’t figured out yet that the more they smear us, the bigger the basket of Deplorables gets.

    I wonder if they ever will?

    1. They’ll all get it when the big newspapers and the big TV networks are suddenly buggy whip manufacturers.
      Exhibit A:
      Exhibit B:

      The press currently has a mythos that does not match their own customers. Such a situation cannot exist forever, particularly when there’s an alternative solution jamming itself into the product space at a lower price. One that shares the mythos of the customers.

      People aspire to shop at Tiffany’s. They -actually- shop at Walmart. When Tiffany’s starts selling the same rings as Wallmart, you know they are going bankrupt shortly. They just killed the only thing that was keeping them alive.

      That’s what the press has done. There’s literally no difference between Alex Jones’ InfoWars and the New York Times except slant. If anything, Jones is more believable than the Times these days. I hasten to add, that is not saying much.

      InfoWars, as a company, is some guys in a cheap-ass industrial unit someplace. The Times has their own building in Manhattan, hundreds of employees and immense printing facilities. And a union. Same product, same customers. One of these companies will survive longer than the other, all else being equal.

  4. Kind of late to the party here, but one thing I have found is that when I have a character RIGHT, I mean I really understand him (my wife is my coauthor, and she is in charge of female characters), an aspect of his personality will cause me to write him doing something in the book, and it will seamlessly mesh with other things to reinforce something I am trying to say or something I am trying to do, but it will happen without any kind of effort on my part. When the writing occurs like that, I know I am writing him correctly.


  5. This year’s SRP theme is ” build a better world ” so next month I’ll be ordering extra copies of C.I. for book talking to the middle school. So even if Baen isn’t doing a dog-and-pony show for millions, C.I will be in mine for several hundred.

  6. P.S. That cover for Rats, Bats, etc. Is seriously off-putting, as in… I didn’t down-load it for free when I had the chance. I’m going to read now on the off-chance I’ll be able to add something helpful.

    But I have to say… sometimes the cover designs I see on the books make me twitchy because the fix would be so simple, its just off by enough to be the visual equivalent (design/font/lay-out wise) of nails on a chalkboard.

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