Stranger than fiction

As any writer knows, it’s hard to write believable fiction events.  People don’t just want the product of your imagination, they want it to be REALISTIC.  That’s a lot of work and, often, scenes don’t work out like we want them to.

Somewhere around here, I could say “Well, look at real life and work from that.”  It’s a tried and true rule, one that goes well with “Write what you know”.  Unfortunately, in these terms, those two bits of advice don’t work at all.  Period.  End of story.  As the old saw goes “Life is stranger than fiction” and, by golly, it’s true.  Just sit down and think about real life for a minute.

Our most common means of transportation involves circles of rubber and controlled explosions.  Pretty strange, huh?  Our preferred method of hunting/gathering involves steel carts that we push through rows of metal shelving in a vast warehouse.  Entertainment involves staring at a flickering plastic rectangle for hours on end.  Pretty strange.

Now, a quick and personal example, which will illustrate this point even better.  My mother owns two dogs.  Large German Shepherds.  One of whom has an I.Q that is marginally higher than that of algae.  (sorry, Mom, but you know it’s true) These dogs cannot run around loose, so they are only “dog runs” which are 100 ft steel cables and pulleys, allowing them a nice, wide space to run around in.

Now, occasionally, the pulleys break, which means that we have to jury rig something until we can get to the hardware store.  This is usually done by just clipping the carabiner to the cable.  It works fairly well, sliding almost as easily as the pulleys do.  Unfortunately, the cable DOES wear against the hardened steel, high-strength carabiner, kind of like sandpaper.  Below, you see the result.

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That cut through the top?  It was already halfway worn through.  However, the last half of the gap, a width of approximately 1/4 of an inch, was cut through in less than half an hour.  That steel was designed with a safe-load weight of nearly 300 pounds.  It would have taken me ten minutes to cut that with a hacksaw.  It took the dog less than half an hour to wear it through by running up and down the cable.

That, right there, is stranger than fiction.  Try writing THAT into a book.  Let’s pretend we’re writing a book about a dog and his master.  The master gets drafted, called into action, and has to take the dog with him.  The dog becomes the company mascot, etc, etc.  But eventually, the master is capture by the enemy and the enemy also catches the dog.  They don’t kill him (possibly because they’re planning to eat him later) so they chain him up, using a steel cable attached to a piece of rebar that is jutting out of the side of an abandoned building.

The enemy attempts to extract information from the dog’s master, but he won’t talk.  Unbeknownst to the enemy, the dog outside is silently going crazy, dashing back and forth and lunging against the restraint.  After a day of captivity, the dog’s cable wears through the rebar, allowing him to attack the enemy on guard and rescue his master.

Now, as you know from my story about our dogs, this is entirely possible.  In fact, it’s more possible than not.  However, you’d have a practically impossible time selling it to your readers.  They would never believe it.  Even a lot of dog owners would probably not believe it.  (we tend to subscribe to the tenet that ignorance is bliss)

So, when you’re writing fiction, stick to the believable.  Leave the real world to it’s own devices, unless you are sure that you can sell the idea.  Take your ideas from life if you need to, but try to temper them into something that sounds plausible.  It will save you a lot of rewriting.

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