Why Little Women became a Classic
In the movie Little Women, the second sister Josephine March was a writer who wrote unbelievable stories about knights, and kings, and rogues, and damsels in distress. Over and over again she tried to get them published. It wasn’t until she wrote about her own family that she was successful. In some ways, this paralleled the original author’s life. Louisa May Alcott was quite autobiographical when she wrote that piece of fiction. She wrote what she knew and it brought her success. The book has been a classic for over a hundred years now and has been retold in numerous movie adaptations. What makes this book a classic is that every day life was written from a woman’s point of view.
However, We are not stuck writing about our own lives when writing we write fiction. The important element in writing fiction isn’t having personal experience per say. It is in thoroughly knowing and understanding each character intimately.
I believe that when an author writes from an autobiographical perspective, the writer almost always has to be writing from the heart of the character. There’s an integrity that has to be seen if a reader is going to believe what he or she is reading.
I have seen the reverse of this played out on the small screen. Have you ever watched a movie or television show where you could see that the actors were acting? I remember seeing that happen whenever I have seen some of the later episodes of the Waltons after the main characters played by great actors either passed away or moved on. I would see the writer of the script attempts at cuteness or wit in many of the scenes. The delivery was flat, and the actors didn’t have enough acting training to make the scene their own.
You don’t want to see the writer in an on-screen production, nor do you want to see a writer in a book manuscript either. You want to see the characters as real people. The only way for the writer to portray these characters then is for the writer to see them as real people as well. That’s what makes Jo March and her sisters and Marme so believable. Louisa saw them as real because she knew them intimately.
How Is Science Fiction or Fantasy Believable?
A writer has to draw from his or her own experience or from the experience of someone they have personally known. Every character has to be as unique as the author who creates that character. In Alcott’s Little Women, the story is believable because the four sisters were part of her own experience, but what about science fiction and fantasy? Can we view these as experiential or are they the exception?
I think they can, but the experience occurs not in real life, but in the writer’s mind. However, in order to connect with the reader, the writer must also include characters (even strange aliens) with very human and varied characteristics.
One of my favorite examples of character diversity comes from this scene from Star Trek IV-The Voyage Home. In the movie, there is a scene where the crew of the Star Ship Enterprise have stolen a Klingon vessel and planned to go back in time to save humpback whales because they were extinct in their time, but without the whales, earth and all of its inhabitants would be destroyed.
In this scene, the crew is trying to decide whether they really could go back in time. The individuality of each of the characters and the actors who played the characters were very evident in this scene. Scotty spoke as the engineer who understood how the space ship was constructed he said. In his usual Scottish brogue he said, “I don’t think this bucket of bolts can take it.” Logical Spock gave the probability of failure. Bones, always the cynic was already mourning their deaths, and the impetuous Captain Kirk, who knows that this is their only chance, says, “Let’s do it.” He then ordered the crew take the Klingon ship back in time.
Science fiction is believable, not because any of us have been on a starship, but because the characters are individuals that we recognize from real lives. This is not a scene from a time that the writer actual knows or has actually experienced, except that he created it in his own mind. Because he was able to visualize the scene with these characters’ personalities in mind, the ideas presented in this scene and the whole movie seem plausible. Science fiction as well as fantasy are both based not in reality, but in how realistic the writer believes his own story line and the elements of that story line and how well that writer can project his belief to his audience.
In my own fiction writing, I combine the elements of my own experience and the created imagery of my impressions of what life in a previous era probably was like for the people who lived it. I picture myself in the scene, in the shoes of the character. When I do that, I am no longer me, the writer, but I am the character. However, before I can do this I must do my homework. I have to get to know this person. I have to know what makes him/her tick. I must know his/her history. I have to know how this character is different from me and the rest of the characters in the scene. Only when I do this can the reader accept this character as real and writing what I know.
Donna Brown is pastor at Faith in God Church 1 1/2 miles south of Brandsville, Missouri on Hwy 63. Sunday services are at 10 am and Wednesday night Bible Study at 6:30 pm. As Author Cygnet Brown, she has recently published her first nonfiction book: Simply Vegetable Gardening: Simple Organic Gardening Tips for the Beginning Gardener
She is also the author of historical fiction series The Locket Saga. which includes When God Turned His Head and Soldiers Don’t Cry, the Locket Saga Continues, and most recently, A Coward’s Solace, Book III of the Locket Saga