Writer’s Desk: Embrace the Unreal

One of the trickier and continually undiscovered American writers, Percival Everett specializes in a particularly elevated satirical fiction. More than a commentator on contemporary mores, he is also funny. A hard trick to pull off. From I Am Not Sidney Poitier:

People, my friend, are worse than anybody.

In this interview, Everett talks about how to maintain the illusion of realism:

If you were to find what you consider the most realistic fiction, memorized with a friend a portion of dialogue from that novel, then sat on a bus and acted it out, people would think that you are crazy. It is not realistic fiction. This is the magic of fiction. It seems the same way that you can have on a canvas that looks really three dimensional. It can’t be. Also, if you were to record the most meaningful conversation you’ve ever had with your best friend about something really important to you and wrote it down on paper, it would be the worst dialogue ever written. It’s a trick, recreating illusion. So it isn’t necessarily not realistic. It’s something else that gives us the appearance of realism. Given that, there can’t be any rules. You’ve already started from a place that is unreal…

Remember the common critique of many an annoyed high school kid struggling through Shakespeare: “Nobody talks this way!” True. But nobody talks like they do in Lee Child or Michael Chabon novels, either.

Embrace the unreality of it all.

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