Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, December 29, 2008

Holiday Cheer: Reality is Not All It's Cracked Up to Be

I am currently on blog holiday, and am re-posting some refreshing concoctions from Christmases past.

Life. It's deep, right? I mean, just look at the word. Life. Wow, man. Just, wow.

Here's the thing about real life. Real life is boring. Do not write about real life.

Let me put it another way. People say rap is "real." Rap isn't real. Rap is a fantasy world. As I always say: Consider the Wu. The Wu Tang Clan have created an elaborate fantasy world based upon martial arts mytholgoy, Al Pacino movies and, I'm told, cash ruling everything around me. These geniuses accomplish the impossible: they make Staten Island seem cool. (Of course, you could call any place "Shaolin" and it would seem cool. Like I said, they're geniuses.)

People call rap "real" because it deals with real life issues (i.e. the aforementioned cash ruling everything around me), but the best rap takes those real issues and places them in a fantasy world that adheres to its own moral code. When you take the completely boring trials and tribulations of real life (i.e. cash ruling everything around me) and place it in a foreign surrounding (i.e. Shaolin), that credit card debt and those student loans aren't mundane, they suddenly appear poignant and powerful. (Bless you, RZA. Bless you.)

Don't strive to write about real life as it is actually lived. That's boring. Take life to the next level. Put real life in a strange world or filter it through the gaze of a unique character. When you put real issues in a strange world a funny thing happens: your book seems more real.

Now, my intention here is not to tell you to write gangsta rap inspired fiction (although, actually, that's not a bad idea). Think about the unique worlds crafted by your favorite writers -- even the ones that take place in "real" life. Great books are transporting. They take you away to a new place before they bring you back to what you know.

To put it another way still, when a sales rep goes to a chain and tells the buyer about the books on the upcoming list, they need something to point to that makes a book stand out. They need to be able to say, "This is what makes this book different." A unique character, a unique way of telling the story, a unique plot, a unique world, something, anything that sets a book apart from the thousands of other books that are published every year.

And I'm here to tell you: real life isn't enough. Now go write me some gangsta rap fiction.



Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

My life is boring, pathetic and un-interesting. Unless I'm some kind of an Indiana Jones world class traveller (which I'm not) exploring China and Egypt, then yeah, I ain't wasting my time writing about my own pathetic life.

Yes, you are right. I'll write something much more exciting, something for ME to fantasize about.

Madame Lefty said...

I ♥ this post so much.

God bless Nathan for bringing up RZA. None of my current friends are Wu Tang fans. How sad. =(

Ann Victor said...

Yup! Give me pure escapism everytime. :) Real life is just so, well, real.

Dara said...

I read to escape reality. If I were to read a book about my life, I'd fall asleep in the first ten pages.

That's why I write about the past. It allows me to explore issues and a time and place that are far from the mundane life I'm living.

Margaret Yang said...

I used to live overseas, teaching English. My adult students, who certainly should have known better, used to tell me "facts" about America/Americans that they had learned by watching television. Every semester, I had to print in big letters on the board,


Even "reality" television shows are not reality. If they were, nobody would watch them.

And if fiction depicted real life exactly, I wouldn't read it. I have enough reality in my real life.

Lady Glamis said...

I write reality - but through a filter, like you explain. I didn't realize this until I read your post. Interesting! Yeah, real life is boring...

I think one of my favorite movies is Stranger Than Fiction. It's about one of the most boring people on the planet, yet it's possibly one of the most interesting movies I've ever seen. It works!

Thanks for sharing. :)

Chase March said...

"Keeping it real" has become a cliche in rap music. But it really is a piece of advice to all artists out there.

I think as writers we need to be true to ourselves. We can do that in our fictional worlds. Thanks for pointing that out.

Anonymous said...

Our critique group once auditioned a fellow writer who was working on a novel, based on his real-life experiences during the 70s. His premise was kind of cool and his writing style showed promise. But the poor guy had written himself into the novel. He was the protagonist! (The plot was fiction, but the characters and relationships were real, he explained.)

Whenever we commented on lack of action or confusing dialogue or whatever, his comeback was always, "But that's the way it happened."

Okay, but the way it happened was boring, dude.

A Paperback Writer said...

Hey, Deaf Brown Trash Punk,
you could do the Hemingway bit and go out and run with the bulls in Pamplona next July.
Or not.
Just a thought. :)

And, Nathan, I think I'll pass on a gangsta rap novel. someone else will have to write that one...

Mechelle Avey said...

Nathan has a point about rap. If not rap, then about expanding your writer's worldview. I went to a YA writers conference a year ago. Almost all the writers were white and 40+ (nothing wrong with that, but a lot of the writing shared was pastoral in nature). I don't think My Antonia could compete against all the Gossip Girls of today. I was one of about 5 people with a tan. Yet, in almost every state in America, except for the mountain states, approximately 66% of school children are ethnic minorities. Just a note: Urban is hot. Urban does not indicate race. It's real life, fantasy environment, just like Nathan said. The gangsta part was funny, given the demographics of the writers in the writer conference I attended, but if you don't get the humor, you might already be in trouble. By the way, didn't 50 Cent start his own publishing company, because publishers weren't publishing for the majority minorities? Anyway, it doesn't hurt to think multiculturally, especially if you write YA. Kids have to read. They're the cash cow of the industry. Anyway, sorry this is so long.

Jo said...

Since I used to put out gangsta rap records on my own independent record label before writing books for 9-12 year olds, I should be be whiz at this...
Actually I am sort of working on a new book entitled "White chick in gangsta city."

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