In my last post I included a photograph, and noted the fact that adding a staged, theatrical element to the scene actually resulted in a more realistic (and impressive) picture, one that gave a truer impression.
I burbled something fuzzy about the paradox of a fiction increasing realism. I wasn’t up to thinking about it much more at the time.
I’m not actually up to thinking much tonight either, but I’ve been pondering the matter off and on over the weekend and have come up with the following hypothesis.
What the tourist people did, when they added the fictional elf-girl to the scene, was a sort of visual counterpart to what I do when writing novels (especially since I write fantasy).
You had a prospect, a “view” which was most impressive in real life, but didn’t translate well to the photographic record. The problem with the photograph was that scale was lacking. You saw a picture of rocks and moving water, and you couldn’t tell if you were looking at a small mountain stream or a mighty waterfall.
So the tourist people added a human being. She gave it scale. Suddenly you take a picture and you can see how large the waterfall is in comparison to her. The falls comes alive (not to mention that the girl is nice to look at in her own right). You can almost hear the roar of the water now.
Fiction is like that. History (contemporary or older) provides data, data that can overwhelm and bore the consumer. There are a few talented historians who can bring the stories alive, but even their work doesn’t ring bells for many people. Because the historian (generally) follows strict rules. He can only use the documented evidence. He may not invent things. And there’s a lot he can’t know.
His narrative, therefore, often lacks human scale on the emotional level. We miss the drama of the story because the historian can’t tell us how it felt to the people involved—the things they feared, their hates and loves.
The novelist adds the personal element. He tries (with more or less success) to transport us into the skin of a historical character (real or imagined or composite). He tells us how things looked and sounded and smelled. He shows us (doesn’t just tell us) how the issues being contested affected the people involved. The flat photograph acquires proportion.
The subjective human element provides scale.
The irony of this is that subjective things generally make poor yardsticks.
I shall consider that problem tomorrow.
Unless I find I’ve thought myself into a corner and turn to drink instead.