I’m a creature of many worlds…some of them fantastical and others just thrilling and/or mysterious. As a writer, it’s not all that strange to have a toe in several worlds at once. But there is a certain amount of schizophrenia involved in it! So that begs the question…are all writers completely, totally, rabidly crazy? Well…yes…of course! If we weren’t, our prose would be ever so boring. I mean, take for example the real world this writer inhabits. It’s wonderful…filled with love and constant challenge…but it’s hardly noteworthy. What feels like a soft, warm sock to me would probably just feel like soggy, old wool to you. So perception is important, but so is strangeness. I’m not talking about the strangeness of my early morning outfit when I walk the dogs (And believe me, you don’t want to SEE that outfit!) I’m talking about a world that’s slightly off-kilter from the one you know. A world that maybe has some recognizable parts, but which is different enough to be interesting.
This isn’t to say that all strangeness would draw you in like a pair of strong, warm arms, but some strangeness is necessary for a good story. Much as it pains me, not everybody who reads my books will love them. And some who like my work generally, may wrinkle their noses at a particular story I create. It’s all good. All that means is that I stepped beyond the strangeness parameters the reader didn’t even realize he or she had put into place. We all have them. For example, I can accept that the hero has green hair and scales, but that tail with the pincers on the end is just too much. Or, a world with shifters and vamps is peachy keen, but a world with an armadillo shifter is just damn weird.
The interesting thing is that, over time, as fiction evolves and changes according to the whim and tastes of the reading public, our strangeness parameters stretch and skew with it. For example, now maybe I can deal with the pincered tail, but a hero with two penises might send me running to the door (to buy the damn book!). This strangeness factor pertains to all fiction, even contemporary or literary. Even in a world built very closely along the lines of our own, there will be things about the story that strike a strange chord. The hero is fighting drug addiction, for example, and you don’t have an addictive personality so the concept is foreign to you. The question then becomes, is this a strangeness you’d like to explore? Or is it too uncomfortable for you to experience? The answer will determine if you will pick up the book and read it, or pass it by for something that fits within your parameters.
I experienced this with the TV show Dexter. When I first started watching it I didn’t think I was going to be able to enjoy the premise. I’ll admit I have a problem with representing a serial killer as a nice, misunderstood guy. But I hung in and soon found I could identify with the character’s issues and emotions, if not the way he dealt with them. I also liked the supporting cast and the tension between Dexter’s addiction and his job with the police. So I stretched my strangeness parameters and embraced a world I didn’t think I’d enjoy. I don’t know why I did it. Just as I couldn’t tell you why readers pick and choose their reading material as they do. I only know that we start building our strangeness parameters as soon as we start perceiving the world around us. And we keep adjusting them until the day we die. Which makes life ever so wonderful and interesting. And helps millions of authors sell lots of strangely wonderful books!
Happy Reading everybody!