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Quotha: Howard on realism

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Feb. 27th, 2011 | 0:22

Nobody writes realistic realism, and if they did, no one would read it. The writers that think they write it just give their own ideas about things they think they see. The sort of man who could write realism is the fellow who never reads or writes anything.
— Robert E. Howard


(Hat tip to an anonymous commenter on The Silver Key)

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Comments {16}

nancylebov

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from: nancylebov
date: Feb. 27th, 2011 9:11 (UTC)
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Thanks for the link.

My mind was on a different aspect of realism (naturalism?)-- that the real world isn't nicely organized into stories.

Natalie Goldberg has written a number of books (notably Writing Down the Bones) about using writing as meditation. Her novel, Banana Rose is realistic in the sense that one thing happens, then another thing, without a lot of plotty connections. It kept my attention and I enjoyed it, though I don't know whether I'll read it again. I've never seen any fantasy written in that spirit.

The nearest thing I know of in science fiction is Budrys' Hard Landing, which is about a small group of aliens who get stuck on earth. Not a comic novel, and iirc, nothing very dramatic happens.

No huge conclusions-- I'm mulling the choice of distance for the reader for viscerally disturbing material. I note that Morgan doesn't go into the point of view of people being eaten by octopi, but I'm not sure what that signifies.

It was worth being reminded that even what looks like hackwork for a fair number of readers can be the results of aesthetic choices by the writer.

And a straw in the wind-- Silver Borne by Patricia Briggs is a recent paranormal romance.... with a torture scene which is off-stage. She's quite a popular writer, so this could be an indication of things to come.

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Sherwood Smith

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from: sartorias
date: Feb. 27th, 2011 13:54 (UTC)
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Johnson said something like that. I wonder if I can find the quote. Maybe tomorrow--much driving ahead today.

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Tom Simon

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from: superversive
date: Feb. 27th, 2011 13:59 (UTC)
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I’d very much like to see that. Where are you headed today?

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Sherwood Smith

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from: sartorias
date: Feb. 27th, 2011 14:07 (UTC)
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Down to San Diego for ConDor--could only go one day due to family stuff.

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Tom Simon

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from: superversive
date: Feb. 27th, 2011 14:15 (UTC)
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Ooh! Have fun!

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(Deleted comment)

Tom Simon

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from: superversive
date: Feb. 27th, 2011 14:23 (UTC)
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Very true.

Feces are real, and torture is real, but writing down stories under those conditions is laughably unreal. This goes back to one of my pet peeves, which I wrote about some years ago — have you perhaps seen the post before? I called it ‘Death Carries a Camcorder’, and began it with some wise words from rysmiel:
I have a strong dislike for first-person narratives where there is no inherent reason for the narrator to be writing this stuff down, nor context in which they could reasonably have done so.

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starshipcat

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from: starshipcat
date: Feb. 27th, 2011 17:32 (UTC)
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This may well be the result of the development of stream-of-consciousness fiction. Ironically enough, stream-of-consciousness was originally developed as a method of presenting the reader with unfiltered reality -- we're thrown straight into the character's head and experiencing his thoughts, without the mediation of any narrator, but also without any plausible natural mechanism by which those thoughts are being detected and transmitted for transcription so we may read them.

In eighteenth and nineteenth century fiction, we see a very careful attention to the mechanism by which the story was recorded and brought to the reader. If it was a first-person story, it had to be either written down by the narrator or told to someone who wrote it down, and the manuscript had to be passed by some clearly understandable sequence of events to the publisher who put it into book form. But even in the case of a third-person narrative, there was often careful attention to how the account came to be recorded and the resultant manuscript conveyed to the publisher. The more extraordinary the events in the story, the more carefully this process had to be detailed so that the reader could be coaxed into suspending disbelief.

By the twentieth century we see its abandonment in mainstream literature, but writers of stories of wonder often still felt obligated to provide some plausible mechanism by which the account of adventures on distant worlds could have come to our hands -- Edgar Rice Burroughs' early Barsoom stories all have introductions by which we are told that the manuscripts of Captain Carter came into the hands of his agent Mr. Burroughs and thus to be published. But after a while, even that fell by the wayside and the later Barsoom stories are simply presented as stories, without any mechanism by which they could have come to us the readers. They're just stories, and we suspend our disbelief to enjoy them.

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nancylebov

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from: nancylebov
date: Feb. 27th, 2011 16:57 (UTC)
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If you really want realism mixed into your violence, you'd have the aftermath-- the injuries (recovered from and not) and the material losses and the grieving-- not just the most exciting bits.

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marycatelli

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from: marycatelli
date: Feb. 27th, 2011 17:58 (UTC)
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Dear me, do you want your Realistic Adult Themes tainted with consequences? What fun is that?

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(Deleted comment)

marycatelli

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from: marycatelli
date: Mar. 1st, 2011 3:43 (UTC)
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Blood and Gore! Those are Consequences!

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(Deleted comment)

marycatelli

Re: Consequences

from: marycatelli
date: Mar. 1st, 2011 17:01 (UTC)
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Ah. My heroines get pregnant at unusual times, but that makes me a little weird. (Weddings make good happy endings, but so too do births.)

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(no subject)

from: paulwoodlin
date: Feb. 27th, 2011 23:24 (UTC)
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If you really want realism mixed into your romance, you'd have the aftermath - the accidental hurts, the lack of appreciation, the screaming kids...

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Persephone

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from: persephone_kore
date: Feb. 28th, 2011 0:06 (UTC)
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The sixty-odd years of shared joys, challenges, and accomplishments...

Of course, then you're getting into the family-saga genre.

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(no subject)

from: paulwoodlin
date: Feb. 28th, 2011 22:14 (UTC)
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Sixty years? You have a genetically impressive family tree.

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(no subject)

from: paulwoodlin
date: Feb. 27th, 2011 23:25 (UTC)
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So writers who think they are writing realism just don't realize they've mistaken their fantasies for reality? That's a good definition of insanity in my book.

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sarah_dimento

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from: sarah_dimento
date: Feb. 28th, 2011 21:47 (UTC)
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I can relate to this as a visual artist as well. Take scientific illustration for example. The illustrator has to make decisions on what to include or leave out in order to convey a clear message about the subject matter. If it were true realism, you would see every identification tag and other extraneous information surrounding the specimen, and the whole would be less effective in convey scientific information.

The same goes for plots. If you showed a character waking up going through his morning routine: brushing his teeth, changing clothes, making breakfast etc. you would end up with an incredibly boring book. A plot != a bunch of stuff that happened. It needs to be massaged into a cohesive narrative. :)

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