I believe there are two types of fiction readers. Those that prefer gritty, realistic characters and/or situations, and those that prefer made up fantasies.
Stephen King is at one end of the spectrum here. King’s characters – even his supernatural ones – are very, very human. They are ordinary human beings put in extraordinary situations. Even his seminal fantasy work of the Dark Tower – full of made-up names and things like Billy Bumblers and Lobstrosities, not to mention the Dark Tower itself – hinges on an imaginary world, and the four human members of Roland’s ka-tet are all very human, very relatable. In each of the characters, we can see ourselves. Roland’s quest to find the Dark Tower, can easily be seen as a metaphor for our own personal missions in life. (And anyone who can not relate to the heartbreak in Roland’s first love, Susan Delgado, as written in Dark Tower #4 – Wizard and Glass, has a heart of stone.)
(Picture above: A much younger me trying to recreate how my mind’s eye saw Susan Delgado – model: Jana Louw)
The point is, even in King’s most fantastical work, his life, situations, and people are real. Gritty. And then you have books like Shawshank which has no supernatural things at all, and they are even more real!
And then there is the opposite side of the spectrum: the wholly made up fantasy. I will ascribe JK Rowling as the modern doyen of the genre. The Harry Potter series is full of made up things like giants and house-elves and and and… Not to mention the people themselves who are neatly split up between those who are wizards and witches and those who are muggles. Look, I have my issues with the character of Harry himself, but no one can deny the series is a cracking read, and sometimes, darker than even King himself can come up with. Even a cynical old bastard like me has the seven-book series on my shelf, and I’ll tell you I loved it!
Then, of course, there is George RR Martin’s ‘Game of Thrones’ – I’ve not read a word of the books, but as for the TV series: Hi, my name is Gerry and I’m an addict. (For the young folks, ever wondered why he decided to put ‘RR’ in his name, and not just go ‘George Martin’? Well, some say it’s a homage to Tolkien, but I think it’s to stop is middle-aged-and-older folks from confusing him with this guy)
All in all, personally I prefer the real life thing. I know many who do not. I have read many a defence of the fantastical characters of 50 Shades of Grey where the hot, handsome, single, young, kinky billionaire that can make the hot, beautiful, single, virginal, innocent girl orgasm by just blowing on her nipple – through her bra – is seen as perfectly acceptable. Who believes this shit? Apparently, no one, but the fans don’t care: we’re accosted by real-life every day where we have to deal with middle-aged working-class men with dad bods and bald spots who can force an erection once a month; allow us a bit of fantasy, will ya? And you know what, I can’t argue that. I can’t argue that at all. (However, I’ve been into the kink scene for many, many years, and never met a billionaire. Not even once. And the only virgin around was, erm, me…)
But I cannot walk that fantastical road myself.
Discovering Leigh is frighteningly real. The characters are fictional, but I can tell you that the emotions, events, trails and victories in the lives of Leigh and Mikey are not fantastical in the slightest. I have purposefully made them as characters very ordinary and average. (I often joke and say the only piece of fantasy in this whole book is that Leigh is a successful photographer, something that does not exist in real life. The difference between a photographer and a KFC Bucket? The KFC Bucket can feed a family of four).
This love for the stunningly average was born when I was a teenager. There was a TV ad for a chain store jeweller. Where this rough-around-the-edges average Joe buys this beautiful diamond ring for his decidedly un-pretty girlfriend, and they fall in love. It was the very antithesis of the Michelle Pfeiffer – Rutger Hauer and Tom Cruise – Kelly McGillis romances of Ladyhawke and Top Gun which I adored as a teen. I found this TV ad simply beautiful. For a guy with an ugly mug like me, it gave me hope. It lifted my spirits and made me feel good. It told me there are beautiful things to be seen and happiness to be found in a world that treats us ordinary folk very badly.
In my earliest post-adolescent writings, my people were real. I never had ‘the beautiful’ or ‘the handsome’ lead character. My people were ordinary. Ordinary people living ordinary lives. Until something happens…
(A digression: I love it when those lines between the fantasy and the reality blurs – but I’ve not often find it in literature, but I have seen it in photography and art, particularly in the works of Jack Vettriano. I know he is the modern “King of Kitsch”, but that man paints lyrics into his paintings that makes one wonder if it is a stretch of the deepest imagination, or the ultimate representation of rough-edged reality.)
Mikey is a decidedly average guy in his late 20’s. He works in an office. He is awkward looking. He is just a stereotypical IT geek with a spreading waistline and a receding hairline. He is not the hot young billionaire. My business partner suggested that in the movie he should be played by Jesse Eisenberg, except Jesse has too much hair and is not quite awkward looking enough.
Leigh is not just decidedly average. She is, politically correctly speaking, ‘homely’. Okay, she is an ugly girl. She is small. She is not even a redhead, she is just a ginger. She is an art-school drop-out who smokes too much. She even wears braces, for crying out loud. There is nothing in her that the ordinary hot-blooded straight male would find attractive. (Who would play her in the movie? I have no idea, do you have any idea how hard it is to find a redheaded actress who is not drop dead gorgeous? However, Elanor Tomlinson could be an interesting choice. Sophie Turner was a favourite once, but she is just too damn tall and pretty to play Leigh.)
Ah, the fantasies of Hollywood… but I digress.
Yet, the chemistry between Mikey and Leigh just works. Leigh is beautiful to Mikey. Mikey is the ultimate man to Leigh, and screw the other 7 billion people on the planet if they don’t agree.
So, then I challenge myself. In the sequel to Discovering Leigh, Defining Giulia, what do I do? The very thing I despise. I bring in the fantastical world classic: Giulia is not small, short, ugly, fat, ordinary. Nope, Giulia is young, she is tall, she is not just beautiful, but gorgeous and unique, and on top of that, clever. She is the creature that only exists in the pages of fashion magazines and bad romance novels. Think a young Charlize Theron circa Devil’s Advocate, but without the horrendous remnant-of-the-‘80s hairdo.
Despite Giulia’s stunning good looks, I cannot not make her real. She is not a fantasy. In the book, I challenge myself on character building. I needed Giulia to be human or order for the character, and the book, to carry any weight in my mind. I cannot stumble into my own dislike for the alpha-character.
Did I succeed? Well, if all goes well, Defining Giulia is scheduled for release 30 May, exactly 1 year after the launch of Discovering Leigh, and the you can be the judge. So, if you will excuse me, I have a crapload of writing to do, because before I can carry on with Giulia’s 3rd rewrite, I have to grapple with the Imperceptible Contrast Between Wrong and Wright, but more on that next week.
Cover pic is the beautiful Dr. Katya De Oliveira, who sadly has no ambitions in modelling. No Photoshop involved, just 100% makeup by the stunningly talented Charlene Warwick.
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