The Fallacy of Fiction

There is something unreal in the world of fiction. Now get me right; I’ve written fiction, so I understand that unreality is kind of the point. However, it sometimes leaves a plastic sheen that the producers of the work didn’t intend. Writers write too hard. Actors try to hard to achieve the beneath-the-nail grit that comes with living in the real world. And though the best of them get close, all of them fail.
Take, for example, the gritty I-smoke-too-damn-much gravel of the legendary singer Howlin’ Wolf’s voice. His nasty, I’m gonna charm you below the rafters singing style is difficult to match, granted. But it’s the fiction writer’s disbelief that we can feel it without his emphasizing it in the narrative (via the actors’ actions) that turn the whole thing to plastic. They try to hard to make us feel the stain of oppression and competition, and though the scene works, we’re tired at the end of it instead of charmed.


Now, take the real Howlin’ Wolf, singing the same song. It’s dirtier, darker, closer to the loamy soil, and yet he isn’t trying so hard. Why? Because the earth is already beneath his nails. He can feel it, so he sings about it in his effortless, and somehow, simultaneously strained way.


Reality isn’t unreal. Perhaps on some days the best of us achieve a touch of reality without the sheen of plastic.

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