September 19, 2012

Love At First Sight & Other (True) Lies

She is eighteen and never been kissed. Across her friend's driveway, a car door opens and a beautiful boy steps out. Her heart skips a beat and the whole world slows down. They lock eyes for a single moment and her insides tremble. This boy - this boy is different.

Yawn. Cliche, right? I mean, love at first sight? That's so been done.

That is the 100% true story of how I met my husband 11 years ago. Within a month we were dating and within five months, we were engaged. Didn't take long to ditch that never-been-kissed thing either. When we touched, it was like lightning in my veins.

Just because something is true doesn't make it believable. Things that happen in real life don't have to make sense. They don't have to be logical. Fiction does. There's a principle in writing called Willing Suspension of Disbelief. It's the idea that we, as readers, will let go of what we know to be true to enjoy a story. But that suspension only goes so far. In real life, we know the things we experience are real. There's no need to suspend our disbelief to accept that the fastest man in the world is named Usain Bolt. We've lived it. But fiction is held to a higher standard. It has to make sense.

As a writer, I often draw on real experiences to flesh out my characters and stories. I like to set my stories in places I know because I know the atmosphere of the locations on a visceral level I can't achieve through Google. But just because a place or a person or a conversation is real doesn't mean it makes for good fiction. I once wrote a scene between two girls based almost verbatim on a real-life conversation I had as a teen. My first CP immediately called BS on it. She was right. It worked in real life because we were real people. On paper, it was awkward and preachy.

I think I've learned my lesson.

What about you? What are some examples you've read that pushed you past Willing Suspension of Disbelief? What about them made you roll your eyes? Any good examples of things that are real but so unbelievable you'd never put them in fiction? Any other cynics find themselves in love at first sight despite your beliefs on the subject? Head to the comments and share!


Angelina C. Hansen said...

I learned this lesson the hard way in one of my first novels. No one believed the stuff that was based on the real stuff. One agent wrote me in all caps THIS WOULD NEVER NEVER NEVER HAPPEN. It had. I lived it. The phrase "real life is stranger than fiction" became my mantra.

erica m. chapman said...

SO true!!! That is an excellent point, Jenny! I always have to suspend my belief for those amazing coincidences in Fiction. I know they have to happen for the story to progress, but the chances of the MC running into this special boy who has a connection to her? Slim at best. BUT I love reading about it, and I think you NEED those coincidences for it all to fold together nicely, like good origami ;o)

Great post <3

Sarah Negovetich said...

This happens every time I pull something from my teen years into my writing. I hear "this doesn't feel true" along with "your book sounds like it's set in the 90s". *HeadPalm* Yep, real life doesn't always work in fiction.

Carrie-Anne said...

I freaking hate instalove, be it book, movie, or tv, YA or adult. I know real-life teens often feel like a virtual stranger is the love of their life and they have such a special, epic love story after all of 10 dates, but in a book, that seems annoying and unrealistic. I want dramatic, sexual tension, and the rewarding feeling of a couple getting together or enjoying a happily ever after only after a lot of struggles and false starts.

Gina said...

I can think of at least three couples aside from you and your husband who were on their way to happily ever after within a 6-month time frame. And yet, I totally agree with Carrie-Anne about insta-love in books and movies. I can't stop rolling my eyes. My husband hates watching movies with me because I will grunt and moan and yell, "Cheesy!!" without hesitation.

And yet... I write romance. Go figure.

Maggie Hall said...

What a sweet story! And you are so right--fiction has to make more sense than real life! How odd...

SM Johnston said...

My parents fell in love at first sight in the 60s. They were together for more than 40 years and never had a single fight. We lost him to cancer two years ago. I think people would find that unbelievable in fiction.

Adrianne Russell said...

It really makes me wonder why we can accept insta-love in real life but not in fiction? I'm guilty of it, don't get me wrong. Reading how you and your husband got together gave me swoony awwwws! When I read "Twilight", the rapid pace at which Edward and Bella got together made me stabby.

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