I realized some time ago that the thing my kids’ generation valued the most was “authenticity”.
Sure, my brother’s age group talked about “keeping it real” but they mostly meant dressing down and not respecting conventions.
The kids, growing up in an era of podcasts and selfies seem to despise what they view as inauthentic public personas.
Over and over again, they bite the gold to ensure it’s real. I got the impression they often don’t care if it’s good or bad, so long as it’s “authentic.”
Now, I suspect a lot of times they get fooled. I know a lot of times they get fooled, but I think that just makes them want “authentic” more, because they are aware they’re surrounded by narratives, by just-so stories, by things that don’t quite work.
This past weekend, I was at Tulkon, where some foolhardy souls put me, David Carrico and David Weber on a panel moderated by the inestimable Jim Curtis on “sandboxes” and playing with your opinions in your narratives, or inserting your politics in your narratives.
I’m not exactly sure which it was, because something in the hotel was playing up my allergies to an extreme — I suspect the stuffed furniture had feathers — and by Sunday morning, I could barely see, and was suffering from a massive headache.
But I got the general idea it was about whether or not to introduce politics in yoru stories, and use your stories to push your narrative.
This is a very bad idea.
Because of course, if you’re writing something, your most fundamental beliefs will come into the story, but the story has its own logic, and its own imperatives, and the characters play out out their destinies regardless of what I want them to do.
My characters tend to want to be free, because I tend to want to be free and self-actuated, and believe that individual freedom is best for the world, and for humans at large.
If you believe humans are slaves of some Marxist narrative, you’ll write it into your stories because you see the world that way.
BUT if you want the stories to be real, you’ll give the other side equal time.
You will let the opponent play his turn. And you will follow the logic of its throw.
You will not put your thumb on the scale to make your favorite win. Or not so hard that your characters fail to be alive.
Doing that is a way to create just-so stories. They’re too simple, and they feel anything but authentic.
Recently in reading a lot of Jane Austen fanfic I ran into a lot of this. And you’ll find them in all historical books, too. Women are weirdly 21st century women in their times. So you know, they have sex like there are contraceptives (beyond rather inefficient condoms) and they talk about how women should go to Cambridge and Oxford (why is never fully clear) and — Just nonsense.
Heck, everyone is 21st century. Like people will rail about blood letting, as if they somehow had antibiotics to hand if things went South, and understood the germ theory of disease. (For the record, blood letting did work at times, by jump-starting your own immune system. They didn’t have many weapons, they were doing the best they could.)
There are ways you can do that, but you have to explain why this person is so different, and why she has such weird opinions, and you show the price she pays, too.
Sure, some people — rare — with very weird backgrounds — could defy the convention of the times, and still end up doing well. But it was rare. And there was a price. There was always a price.
To impose your view on the past, with no excuse, to impose your view on the characters with no respect for the world you’ve created (and even in the present, the world in a novel is your internalized world, not the real one, and therefore created) is to creat bad art.
And a simplistic and cheap narrative.
Anything but authentic.