Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Better Than Good

In yesterday's post, I expressed some thoughts about making the dialogue better than reality. There were some thoughts expressed about whether it would be possible for a book, a realistic one at any rate, to really be 'better' than reality.

I personally think that a lot of things about books should be 'better than reality' as it were, because reality is often not beautiful, elegant, or poetic. Life is capable of all of those things; however, it is also often ugly, clumsy, and unromantic. These qualities all have their place in the universe -- I'm a big believer in balance -- but these qualities don't always make the best writing. Writing should be better than reality.

I think about this the same way I think about Hollywood. In the world, the attractiveness average is a five, of course. In Hollywood, though, because it's a mystical place where things I don't understand occur, the average seems to somehow take one step to the right, and the average is a 6.5 or higher. If you think I'm kidding, go look at the unattractive people in a few Hollywood flicks. My bet is they're 5s. The only place they count as ugly is in movies. (I make this statement only about American cinema. Other countries seem to play by different rules. Or maybe I'm just not a good judge of attractiveness in other countries. I could be wrong.)

In my mind, literature, like Hollywood, should take one step to the right. Now, I'm not suggesting that everyone in books should be attractive, because that would just sound hinky, but things could still average a 6 instead of a 5. There can be more wit and humor in a book than there is in many people's lives. There can be more meaning in things than there tends to be in life. (In case no one warned you, life as we know it is not symbolic. Books can be, though.) There can be more eloquence than the average moment ever seems to afford any of us. Things can, for once, tend towards order instead of chaos.

I wouldn't say that books should never have things go wrong or show the ugliness that can be inherent in the universe. Truth, after all, should be sought just as much as Beauty, maybe even more than it. But, that search doesn't have to be ugly or unappealing. We can make things in books just a little bit better. A little wittier. A little prettier. A little bit better.

I'm not talking about a 10 out of 10. But maybe a 6 or 6.5

Your thoughts? Can books be better than life? Should they be?


  1. Very interesting post. I think a lot of times books are like "real life concentrate." They describe events that have been filtered of all the boring stuff. The boring stuff is open to interpretation, though. What someone finds uninteresting might serve as the focal point for someone else.

  2. In The Fire In Fiction by Donald Maass, there is an entire chapter devoted to hyperreality. What you are talking about here is the same thing. Only he thinks every thing in a novel should be heightened--the good and the bad. Fiction is all about larger than life experiences.

  3. I think books should be better than life. Reading a book takes me away from all that is good, bad, beautiful, ugly. And even if the book holds all that is ugly, stupid, boring, at least it's not my life. I read to escape.

  4. Davin -- "Real life concentrate." I like that. It does seem like something we writers are empowered to do, trim the things that don't matter or aren't interesting.

    Susan -- Well, I wouldn't suggest removing the bad things from a story, but I do suggest that they should still be told well.

    Piedmont -- I think you have a point that many people, like yourself, look for an escape in their reading.