Just got a Facebook message from a friend who asked if it was acceptable, in a story she was writing, to describe as a background detail a poster starring an actress in a real-world movie she in fact was never in.
My answer? Why they hell not?
One of my major concerns as a writer – or a reader, or watcher of movies and TV shows – has always been the willing suspension of disbelief. Indeed, getting kicked “out of frame” by something so overtly dumb even a kid (this being me) spotted it played a vital role in Why I Became a Writer in the First Damn Place.
And lately I’ve been thinking much on the willing suspension of disbelief, how a storyteller earns it – or doesn’t. Ironically, when I was in high school first exposed to the concept in English class, I resisted; it somehow offended me that it existed. And it strikes me that was precisely because of how much I valued it: I think it just struck me as a given that we all wanted the fiction to be real. Or that everybody valued it as much as I did.
(In fact I’ve been thinking so much about SoD, let’s call it for convenience’s sake, so much, especially in the context of movies (wome which earn it, some which … don’t) that I’m going to address it when I finally buckle down and start doing my short podcasts on creating action/adventure entertainment. I’ve even set aside a YouTube channel for the purpose. Which I won’t bother linking to, since there’s nothing there yet. Soon. And I’ll let you know!)
So there are two foundations on which I base my entire craft.
I want the illusion to be as complete as possible. In other words, I want to create- and earn – total willing suspension of the reader’s disbelief.
If it ain’t fun for me to write it, how can it be fun for you to read it? And conversely: the more fun it is for me to write, the more fun it’s liable to be for you to read. I will say that judging from reader reactions over the years, I succeed in inducing enjoyment in pretty direct proportion to how closely I hew to this principle.
One more factor plays here: all fiction is fantasy, no matter how mundane or banausic. We make up amusing lies for a living, people!
All of which informs the answer I gave my friend: go for it!
Admittedly I don’t write much fiction that doesn’t have a pretty overtly SF or fantasy cast. Even when I do, I find it helpful to regard myself as writing in an alternate universe. One whose gross details are the same as ours: same Presidents, same wars and stock market crashes, same bowl-game results.
But the little details – like who played in what movie – those are infinitely malleable.
What constitutes details minor enough to “fix”? Can’t be defined exactly. Although starring an actress in a lesser-known release seems to me to qualify. The key is, that’s not, especially as a background detail like a movie poster, likely to kick anybody out of frame. It’s not like having Humphrey Bogart talking on a cell phone in The Maltese Falcon or anything. (And if any of my readers – my readers! – just went, “Huh? WTF’s wrong with that”: Google. Google is your friend, my friend.)
Now, it may strike a certain knowledgeable percentage of readers as odd. They may jump right straight on over to IMDb to check out whether this is right or they are nuts. (Or is that just me? Again? I admit that I have no power over The Internet Movie Database.) And most of them will chuckle and shake their heads and say, “I see what you did there.”
And it if seriously torques them out of the story? And they blog about it? Controversy. Sells books, my friend. While it’s just ludicrously untrue that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, controversy of this intrinsically harmless sort can only help bring a creator much-needed recognition.
Now, major caveat: do not nothing that will bring down upon your head a plague of lawyers. That would suck.
But otherwise – knock yourself out. Have fun playing – and making stuff up. That’s why they call it fiction.
As I told my friend (who’s no doubt pleased I answered her much less verbosely): in this I think fiction writing’s like cooking: don’t the ones who do it best, season to their taste?
End note: treat yourself a major treat and bang on the image above to see the link. Or, if you’re too lazy to scroll up, right here. Seriously. That may merit a near-future post in itself. Check it out for now!