I have hurt myself again. I’m not really sure how – I was just walking along and there was stabbing pain in my ankle again. Hypermobility means that this happens, and I’m mostly used to it.
But it got me thinking, because I narrativize my reality fairly frequently, about how completely unrealistic my life is sometimes, when you define ‘realistic’ as ‘standard’. I’ve always had a great sympathy for Sailor Moon – her detractors complain about how her klutziness is supposed to be ‘cute’ and isn’t, and it’s always bothered me. When I was younger I loved seeing a character – a heroine, even! – who was just as apocalyptically clumsy as me, and couldn’t walk down a street without falling flat on her face. And Usagi isn’t just clumsy – she’s gawky and awkward sometimes, has trouble figuring out how to behave like a grownup even as she wants more and more to be one, cries when she’s scared and generally acts like a completely genuine fourteen-year-old girl. I loved her for that, and always will.
I’m relatively fortunate in my search for role-models. I am a white, English-speaking cis-gendered woman, and I have plenty of them to choose from. I’m aware that that makes me relatively lucky, in that I’m actually permitted to exist in popular media. But if I was a fictional character, unless my hypermobility was the subject of a Very Special Episode in which everyone is instructed about my obscure illness via a carefully tailored scenario – maybe by House – I wouldn’t be very plausible. I have trouble convincing people the problem exists even when they can actually talk to me. Add severe anxiety issues and the unrealistically poor memory to the mix, and I’m really quite poorly thought out as a character.
Now I envy the characters in fourth-wall-breaking comics like Real Life, who can complain to their creator about their poor characterization or their story’s internal logic, because I definitely think my narrative could be improved.
Realism in writing isn’t the same thing as ‘like reality’. Reality is all too often dull, repetitive, and sometimes wildly implausible. When I see a novel or a movie lauded for being ‘raw’ and ‘real’, I will automatically pass on it because ‘real’ usually means ‘full of unpleasant people doing stupid things and being just appallingly dull and self-pitying’. A story should be held to a higher standard of narrative plausibility than reality, because reality has no quality control at all, whereas a story should have an editor or a producer or someone whose job it is to say ‘wait, that just makes no sense at all’.
Which isn’t to say that you shouldn’t try to be realistic in writing – realistic characters are the best kind. But consider the suffix. Realistic doesn’t mean real. Wiktionary defines the suffix ‘ic’ as ‘of or pertaining to’. (It kind of startled me that Google had so many suggestions for a search of ‘the suffix ‘ic”, indicating that an awful lot of people had wondered about this) So realistic writing should be ‘of or pertaining to’ that which is real, but not necessarily real real. Reality doesn’t need to make sense, to be logically consistent and plausible. Fiction does. Which is odd, when you think about it, but there it is.
If anyone else has looked at their life or events therein and thought ‘wow, my narrative is really pretty sub-par, I could come up with something way better than this’, I would love to hear about it. Answers guaranteed!