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Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
Changes in the Weather
When fiction is criticized for lacking in realism, it's often because turns in the plot seem arbitrary and unmotivated. Arguments of this sort seem to presume that change is always a long time coming. And perhaps it is. But that doesn't mean that we can see it coming.

Back when I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was struck by the monotony of the weather forecasts for the region during the lengthy dry season. "Fog in the morning, clearing towards midday. Fog returning in the late afternoon and evening." Even in winter, when storms sweep in, predictions were rarely wrong. The radar would show the massive front marching down from Alaska, its daily progress easy to project.

I think most of us can appreciate the appeal of emotional weather with a similarly steady character. Indeed, I sometimes wonder if some of California's inhabitants moved there precisely because they feel so unstable inside that they are desperate for stability outside. Unfortunately, though, the psychic world is a lot more like the mid-Atlantic region where I grew up. In Washington D.C., the forecast of six inches of snow is as reliable as a fortune teller's advice on the stock market. Confusion and surprise are the rule.

That's why I have the impulse to defend fiction that fails to trace the development of a situation methodically, but instead springs it on us out of the blue. An hour ago, I was consumed by bleak feelings, unable to imagine making it to the next hour without exploding. But a little while later I was patiently screwing a new fluorescent bulb, for which I had undertaken a long search in the garage, into one of the house's outdoor light sockets. And then I thought to myself, after extracting my hand from the the covering, "That's a sconce, the root of our verb "ensconce."

Pondering the origins and history of that term, as well as its lexical relatives, I was inspired to sit down at the computer to do some research. When I recalled how awful I'd felt less than an hour before, though, I decided to write this entry instead. I suppose that impulse is another way of weathering ambiguity.

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masoo From: masoo Date: February 4th, 2009 06:12 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I wonder if we could describe the "springing out of the blue" moment in fiction as a different kind of realism, rather than lacking in realism.

I think what bothers me is when I can see the puppetmaster behind the scenes. If something happens that breaks the narrative, and I suspect the only reason it has happened is that the author has painted themselves into a corner, then I get frustrated. I'm more obsessed of late with consistency in characters, and there's a difference, for me, between an erratic character (many of us are erratic in real life) and a character who changes because the author needs to get to Point B and takes the easy route of tossing out whatever we have learned about this or that character.
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