On Reality

I think that, to a greater or lesser extent, writers have a tenuous grasp on reality. In fictional worlds we create situations, people and places, but tinged by our own perspectives and experiences. Even in non-fiction, the worldview we put forward is a constructed, edited one, addressed at an audience and free from many of the contradictions of our inner minds.

I bring this up because, on the few times I actually remember my dreams, the barriers between dreamworld and ‘reality’ become so blurred for me, that even on waking I’m still not sure whether I’m still asleep. I had such a dream last night. In a semi-awake state I wrote the following in my journal:

It’s not the first time I’ve had dreams indistinguishable from the real world, whether realistic nightmares of masked loved ones, or dreams of a full day of work. This also tallies with my love of films that question what reality is, whether it be The Matrix, Existenz or, most appropriately, Inception. I wonder if my love of these films is because of the dreams, whether the dreams are because of the films, or because both are a symptom of my post-modern suspicions about the so-called absolute and irrefutable nature of reality.

The nature of reality is something I come back to a lot. I write a lot of urban fantasy, a modern, recognisable world where beneath the comforting veneer of the familiar lies the horror of the unknown. I wrote a non-fiction piece called Parallel Words for a comics website and a somewhat niche spoken word piece called Plato’s Cave. Anything to try and make sense of the desert of the real.

We use the word ‘real’ as if it’s solid, reliable, its stability a comfort. Reality is terror enough for some people, without adding the complication that it might not be quite as comfortingly immutable as they convince themselves it is. Malleable reality, inter-layered interlocked personal paradigms, these are the ephemeral things of dreams and nightmares, where nothing can be relied upon.

I recently read, and loved, Michael Marshall Smith’s Only Forward (review soon!) in which the protagonist says the following:

People always find it so frustrating that there’s no structure they can see, that they just have to follow the river downstream and see what they find. They want to know the plot so they can guess the end, because they’re afraid of what it might be. I can understand that, even though I know it’s not the way things work. I never know what the hell’s going to happen next, but I can live with that.

As writers we craft our realities, overlapping with those of others from time to time; we show them our rivers and will them to follow them downstream. If we’ve done our jobs well, they won’t know what the hell’s going to happen next, and we hope they can take aspects of what we’ve created for them and integrate it into their own realities.

Finally, in summary, I leave you with some words of wisdom from John Constantine:

John Constantine on Reality