There’s been a lot of controversy recently with regards to the excessive sex and violence on show in HBO’s Game of Thrones show.
There’s always controversy where sex and violence are involved, so nothing new there. But this got me thinking – I’ve not watched the show yet (hush, I will at some point) but I have read the books. One thing in particular that struck me about them was the blunt reality that they portrayed. It didn’t revel in rape, sex and violence, but it wasn’t shy about them either. The books were coldly realistic – a rare trait in a series of fantasy books.
As I haven’t watched the show I can’t really comment on whether what’s shown is overly glamorised or not. But it did get me thinking about the place of realism, even in books that needn’t pay any heed to reality.
Let me be more specific:
If you were actually dumped into a dangerous situation you would not suddenly become a kick-ass warrior. The bullets or arrows would not all somehow miss you. I don’t consider myself a coward but if I thought I was going to die I’d probably get the hell out of there – it’s survival 101.
Stories, especially fantasy and science fiction have a tendency to focus on the chosen one, which is fine. But whilst the chosen one is enjoying being protected by the plot who is narrowly avoiding death in the background? I find the idea of the ‘desperate blunderer’ protagonist far more appealing.
So what does trying to write realism mean to me? Does it mean I can’t have alien races or magic? Nope. If they’re part of the world I’ve written then they exist.
But will my lead character suddenly find the power to fight her way through countless well armed and thoroughly trained soldiers in unarmed combat? No. Because unless she gains access to super powers or a secret weapon (i.e. goes down the ‘chosen one route’) then that can’t physically happen.
Will she occasionally find herself in a situation where things are in her favour and she narrowly comes out on top? Yes. Because that’s called using your initiative and we can all do that.
Will she willingly face ridiculous odds for no real reason other than to forward the plot? No. Because… well… would you?
Will she throw herself into harms way to protect someone she loves? Yes. She’s fundamentally a decent person and people do crazy things for love.
I hope I’m making sense here. Contrived writing is the bane of reality. So to create reality one most avoid cliché’s. Not every protagonist can save the day. Not every mystery can be solved. Not every life saved. As with real people – all my characters can do is their best and hope things work out. They are not protected by the plot – quite the opposite:
What I’m getting at is that I strive to find the reality in my fantasy; the real people in unreal situations; the survivor of a war, not war heroes. This is what George RR Martin does perfectly, in my opinion: he creates realistic, flawed people – not ideals.
Not that my protagonist won’t be heroic on occasion. Indeed, any act of heroism will be made all the more substantial by the reality of their situation. Real people can be heroes, but it’s a risky business…
– Zero Nine