Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Get Real

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

"The truth is out there," we are told, but lately it seems to get lost in the shuffle. The more technologically advanced we become, the more we find ourselves bombarded with beguiling betrayal. From clickbait to fake news, there is artifice around every corner trying to grab our attention.

These practitioners of prevarication may think they're pulling the wool over our eyes, but the good news is, we writers are too smart for them. As creative thinkers ourselves, we can spot a snow job from down the street.

Much like fast food, "reality TV" has a bad reputation thanks to its own generally unhealthy menu. But the discerning viewer can tell the difference between a genuine documentary like My 600-lb Life and the sitcomish silliness of Chrisley Knows Best. What they all have in common, however, is conflict.

I bring all this up to remind us of two things:

     1) People are entertained by conflict.
     2) A savvy audience can smell fakery.

Whether the drama is bonafide or bogus, the lure of any story lies in the conflict it portrays. But the more believable the conflict, the more we allow ourselves to invest in it.

Rather coincidentally, I just read a review of a new action movie in which the critic complains that the villain has no motivation nor backstory. Such a film lacks authenticity because even a bad guy has what he thinks is a good reason to give the hero a hard time.

By contrast, it's real human drama with a touch of suspense each time TV's Nev and Max catch a Catfish and get her face-to-face with the victim of her fake identity. It becomes even more relatable when we learn the reason for the ruse, sometimes even evoking a measure of sympathy for the catfish.

Similarly, a work of fiction carries the ring of truth if there is cause behind the conflict. Yes, the bad guy wants to rob a bank. But why? Because he wants money. But WHY? Because his son needs a kidney transplant. Now we have motivation, and when the truth is revealed we empathize with the troublemaker.

The bottom line is, keep it real and you'll keep your reader committed. Portraying genuine human drama in both the story and in the conflict you create for your characters is how you can avoid writing fake fiction.