My reality or yours?

LJS’s post about DEAD GIRL DANCING got me thinking about ghosts.

My grandmother’s house is haunted. Really. Most everyone in the family, including a science teacher, agrees, as did a few objective friends who visited with me when I was a teen.

Having grown up with ghostly presences, they are part of my view of reality, and thus I continually forget that not everyone believes in or has experienced them. This has caused a challenge for me in writing about them; critique partners are always asking two things: 1) How does she know it’s not her imagination? And 2) Why isn’t she more scared?

I try to revise accordingly, often taking the story farther from my own actual experience to do so, but truly, my answer to both questions, really, is, “Clearly you haven’t ever spent much time with a real ghost.”

This is an extreme example, but I think it’s not uncommon for varying versions of reality to sometimes cause problems in writing and selling books. A more mundane one:
I know a published YA author with a manuscript about a girl living in a trailer park. She hasn’t been able to sell it. In a GOSSIP GIRL market, she has heard repeatedly from editors that, “Nobody wants to read about poor people.” The award-winning, trailer-park-set THE HIGHER POWER OF LUCKY notwithstanding, I guess.

But lots of real kids and teens live in trailer parks, and at least some of them read books (even if they have to get them from the library instead of buying their own). And the overwhelming response to books featuring MCs with ethnic backgrounds — “Finally! A book with a character like me!” — seems to imply that those editors might be wrong. Maybe the marketing consideration is the real objection, and they just don’t want to say that.

In what ways has your reality, or the realities of your work, bumped up against conflicting views? (I wonder if writers who would like to incorporate more of a religious view in characters, and find pushback, is another example.)

Perhaps more important, how do we escape the assumptions and blinders of our personal views of reality to do a better job of creating worlds that a large number of people recognize and feel at home in?

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Filed under Joni Sensel

7 responses to “My reality or yours?

  1. Parker Peevyhouse

    One of the most frequent problems I have is figuring out why my critique partners don’t understand something I’ve written–I always throw in zany things that make sense to me but apparently don’t make sense to others.

    I think this happens most often in this genre, don’t you? So many things are allowed to happen in spec fic that readers aren’t always able to catch on right away.

  2. I have a tendency to underexplain things which seem like basic knowledge to me. But I’ve always heard – assume the reader knows nothing.

    More than once I’ve heard religion is a touchy subject, though I’ve yet to experience myself.

    And your post has made me believe in ghosts more (coming from someone who has had no experience with any). Can I come visit your grandmother’s house sometime? I’m thinking writing retreat :)

    • Parker Peevyhouse

      Then you have to think about whether you’re giving your reader enough credit–you don’t want to make them roll their eyes at you when you explain things they already know. But you don’t want to give them too much credit and end up leaving them in the dark. It’s so tricky!

  3. lindajoysingleton

    Well I write about ghosts but I’ve never had a “woo woo” encounter. But I’ve researched a lot on the topic of psychics and have a basic belief that the many things unbelievable are likely to be real. I don’t know what I’d personally do if I saw a ghost…probably freak out.

    Still when I write, I’m writing from the character’s viewpoint. My own views do influence this but I try to keep the writing true to the character.

  4. I bit different from your experience, but I always get frustrated by the way the Appalachain South is portrayed. We’re not sitting around the campfire with breadbags for shoes! And don’t even get me started on dialect…

  5. What, Beth? No breadbag shoes? You could probably get some on eBay.

  6. Parker Peevyhouse

    Beth, how did you feel about Diane Sawyer’s recent report on Appalachia?

    LJS, researching psychics sounds really interesting!

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