Losing the Magic
Call it what you want, immersion, suspension of disbelief, etc., as for me, I prefer ‘the magic.’ All of it means the same thing: the willingness to forget the bonds of reality and go forth on new adventures. Lately I’ve been watching all the Star Trek series in the order they would appear in the Star Trek timeline. Today Star Trek: Voyager just lost the magic. I was watching S5E25 followed immediately by S6E1, Equinox parts 1 and 2 respectively when my ability to see past the unreality was broken.
I could go on to list the ways in which the episodes were broken, (and believe me it would be quite a list), but this post really isn’t about Star Trek. It’s about the magic. When writing, in any genre of fiction, the writer must pose themselves on the narrow road of believability. If they avoid the fantastical, the extraordinary, they risk losing their readers. Stray too far in the other direction and you become Dan Brown.
The Part in Which I Talk About Dan Brown (But Really It’s About the magic)
Look at me being a Literature Snob. But in all seriousness, Dan Brown’s writing only works because he doesn’t give you time to stop and think about what you just read. He’s the Michael Bay of books. Let down that pace for even a second and people will see through it.
I remember the first time something really lost the magic for me. It was when I was reading Deception Point by Dan Brown. Having read three of his books already, I started on a fourth. I started reading the book then left it at my Dad’s house. Being me, when I finally got around to reading it again I started from the beginning. Dan Brown has a very specific formula:
- the hook
- the setup
- the action
always in that order. In my first attempt at reading the book I had made it to the beginning of the action. Then, when starting over, I read through the setup again. Which gave me that time to stop and think. And when you do you start to think how crazy it is. How poorly written the characters are. How ridiculous the scenario is and *poof* the magic disappears.
It kicks you in your gut, a sneaker of disappointment. All the excitement falls apart. All your appreciation of related works disappears as you are sucked into the realization that none of it is any good. Up to this point you’ve been able to defend the fiction and then suddenly the other side rushes upon you. All those little problems you’ve let go by suddenly become the heads of the hydra, multiplying as you try to suppress them. And then I stop my hyperbole. You just feel bad.
And Then The Good
All this pessimism has made me want to talk about people doing it right. So now I go to my two favorite examples of the magic done right. These two works are some of my favorite works of fiction of all time. Joss Whedon’s Firefly and Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. What makes these two works so extraordinary is how they manage to make ordinary people fascinating.
Many works, whether they be sci-fi, historical fiction, or something in between have what I call ‘The Magic.’ If we are talking about the narrow road of believability many shows, Star Trek included, like to keep one wheel just over the shoulder, just a touch outside the path towards the fantastical (Michael Bay on the other hand goes for THE MAGIC!!! which would be offroading in dreamland).
Firefly and Death of a Salesman forego the need to tell the story of the hero, the guy who beats the odds, the most important people in the universe. Instead, they focus on the guy getting the shit kicked out of him. And their narrative is stronger for it.
Now I’m running out of things to say. I’ve let my creativity atrophy, I guess I just needed a good kick in the gut.