All the regulars here are familiar with the concept if not also the practice of ripping off history and current events to add spice (I’m tempted to say artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative) and depth to world-building, plotting, and at times, characterization. Unfortunately, as the last week has demonstrated rather effectively, the big flaw with pulling chunks of history and filing the serial numbers off is that narrative needs to make sense.
Life not only doesn’t need to make sense, life bloody refuses to have anything to do with making sense.
Despite how it looks sometimes, this doesn’t have anything to do with life or some deity having it in for you. It’s simply that in a novel there will be maybe a dozen or so characters who have an impact on the plot. Actual casts of thousands are rare, and ones that are done well are even rarer.
But real life has billions of people, all of them doing their damndest to advance their own personal “plot” as it were, and when you’ve got that many interacting variables, things get chaotic. This is why nobody has ever managed to accurately forecast weather (beyond a best guess that’s relatively close something like 2/3 of the time so long as you’re not looking beyond the next day or so) or traffic (ditto, but on a scale of minutes). By the time there’s enough data collected and the numbers have been crunched, the forecast is out of date (this, incidentally, is the reason behind having long, complicated passwords. It doesn’t make them impossible to guess. It makes the other guy’s not so long, not so complicated password much easier to guess in comparison, so the other guy’s account is the one that gets hijacked. The old joke about the two guys and the bear writ large).
The thing about the chaos and the unpredictable results is that… it is unpredictable. And we can’t write the same things into our plots without setting it up because it looks far too much like Deus Ex Author.
While Deus Ex Machina was once a perfectly acceptable way to resolve a messy plot tangle, it went out of fashion sometime between the height of ancient Greek theater and now. Although I don’t doubt that it still hangs around in a suitable disguise, metaphorically sliding a fishnet-stockinged leg out from the shadows and whispering, “You wanna plot resolution?”
Whether the Deus in question is hanging around to sandbag those who are tempted and go through their pockets for loose characters is another question, but given the last few weeks I wouldn’t be surprised. I’ve said for years that the Ultimate Author is a pantser. Now I’m sure of it.
After all, who but the Ultimate Author would decide that things need to be made worse? As if this bloody year hasn’t been bad enough. Apparently it’s going to be just that much more rewarding when we recover from it – although I’ve got some serious doubts about the Author’s plotting at this point. Honestly, the whole World In Peril line is getting old. Can we please have some Whirled Peas with Happily Ever Afters for a few quiet decades?
It’s not like life hasn’t delivered those on occasion. Sure they’re rare, but they’re not non-existent. After the whole World At War followed by Uneasy Peace with multiple reruns deal, a bit of happily ever aftering sounds kind of nice. As does a bit of boredom.
The problem, of course, comes with the other awkward fact of real life: one person’s Utopia is another person’s Hell on Earth. Frankly, I wouldn’t even think of inflicting my personal utopia on most other folks because I know it would drive them spare in no time flat.
Alas, there are far too many folks out there who haven’t figured out that something being right for them doesn’t make it right for everyone else. Well, beyond the obvious: nobody is big on murder (although the definition can vary from the extremely narrow “it’s murder if they’re in my family, otherwise it’s self-defense” all the way to the – horribly annoying and sets my teeth on edge every time I encounter it – “it’s murder if I kill someone” (and never mind the notion that there is such a thing as a lawful killing)) or theft (or rather, nobody likes other people taking their stuff, and most people manage to extend it to “taking stuff that’s not yours is bad”).
I’m not going into some of the other major crimes since ultimately they come down to hurting someone or taking something from someone. Nobody wants to be hurt and nobody wants their possessions taken from them. Most cultures have rules against hurting people and taking people’s possessions. Some just don’t consider anyone who isn’t part of said culture to be “people”. Others – like modern Western culture which is at least part of why there are so many attempts to neuter it – regard everyone as “people” and try to apply the rules to everyone.
Anyway, the whole thing with a utopia is that it’s going to suit a relatively small group of people and make the rest miserable. It actually doesn’t matter what the utopia is, it’s going to do this, because people are inherently contrary, fussy, mucky curmudgeons who wouldn’t recognize a “good thing” if they sat on it (Really it’s because we all define “good” in the sense of “good for us” slightly differently).
For me, good includes the rather important fact that I’m able to stay supplied with my narcolepsy medication. Anything that doesn’t include either a cure (which is a pipe dream) or a supply of the medication that keeps me more or less awake during the day is a non-starter. Other people don’t have that criteria. They wouldn’t want a lot of the music I like, either (my taste is eclectic at best). And most of humanity would think it weird that I consider a damn good library to be an essential part of any sort of utopia.
So, yeah, ripping off real life to add gravitas to your world is helpful, but there are a lot of potential dangers. Life is too chaotic for anything else.
Oh, and have a Princess Buttercup in my work laptop case.