Real life would make a terrible novel

First things first - yup, I missed posting on Friday. It's a fair cop. My bad. I was babysitting some friends' kids with m'wife, and time just sort of ran away with me. Also, I was doing a pretty awesome fish impression. So ...

It's a friend's 30th birthday today. And you know what happened first thing, before m'wife was even up, while I was typing away on my laptop? A massive, world-shattering thunderstorm. Hail. Lightening. Thunder that made the lights flicker. Torrential rain. The trees bending and creaking. A building near us was set on fire when it was struck.

Pathetic fallacy, thought the author in me. Literary device. Foreshadowing. Portentous. And then I thought. in a smaller voice, well, that's not how I would have done it.

Opening with weather? A storm, seriously? Come on. Bad writing. I mean, bad, bad writing. There might as well have been a woman in black cackling on top of a nearby hill. Maybe an anonymous letter from a long lost twin. Cliche! said inner-author. This needs editing! Rewrite the morning!

Except, of course, it was just life. We don't live in the world of fiction, like Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next. I'm sure the storm was nothing more than ... well, a storm.

You should all read these books. 

When we write stories, we know they're not real, and so every action, every seemingly random event, is imbued with a meaning derived from its very existence. Why would there be a storm, described and created by the author, if it doesn't mean anything? In the constraints of fiction, everything is something.

But in the real world almost everything is just nothing. That's why fiction works. Readers enjoy the extreme, the impossible, the magical, the fantastic, the horrendous, the improbable ... and they enjoy how it all works. In books, there really are long lost twins, and meaningful glances that lead to the downfall of a kingdom, and storms sent by gods, and people who can tell your profession by looking at your hands. In real life these things can't exist, which is probably why we want them to in books.

The average day would be a rather dull book. I'm not saying life isn't beautiful and amazing and full of wonder, because it is. Check out Life in a Day as proof. But novels - stories - fiction - are meant to take us out of what we already have and already know, and offer something else; another world, another possibility, another viewpoint. The prince gets the girl. The prince is killed for treason. The prince actually is a girl. The prince is actually a frog. It doesn't matter. The point is, there's a prince.

It's worth thinking about why certain things happen in your stories. 'They just do,' is not a good enough answer. That's real life. That's what you're writing to get away from. As an author, you get to be a mini-god, and everything you write is your own responsibility. Don't be a meaningless and arbitrary deity. Make sure actions and events and - well, yes, storms, if you really have to - are there for some reason, even if that reason isn't a very big one.

Now I'm going to go and enjoy life. If fiction has taught me anything, today is going to be pretty dramatic. It started with a storm, after all ...

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