Today, a friend of mine was hashing over a story idea with me for a novel he wishes to write in the near future. Without giving away much of anything, there’s a part where the protagonist, after facing a tragic defeat in love, begins to imagine various alternate scenarios where he might come off as the winner. While the protagonist is aware that these various attempts to change his fate are imagined, he is unable to distance himself from the illusions. I, in my turn, threw in Dumbledore’s dialogue from the King’s Cross scene in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
Dead silence followed this ejaculation from the other end of the line. My friend has not read the HP books and, if he has seen the movies, it was probably without much reflection. I try not to hold this against him.
I went on to explain to him, “Perception is reality. How you perceive things adds to your experiences, which is what shapes you. If your character should imagine various alternate scenarios in search for romantic success and continue to fail, can it not add to his growth even if the incidents didn’t really happen?”
He seemed to like the concept very much and we discussed it further. I mentioned to him the Wickham-Darcy controversy in Pride and Prejudice [another classic he has not read but I don’t complain] and described the scene where Elizabeth reads Darcy’s letter, discovers Wickham’s true nature, and realizes what a gross error in judgment she has made. And her epiphany is not in the clarity she receives in finally learning what a villain Wickham is but in learning her own failing. That she had let a bruised ego direct her away from properly assessing Wickham’s abuse of Darcy. That her pride in the ability to discern the characters of others was not as deserved as she had assumed.
“But the crux of this conflict is,” I explained to my friend with the level of excitement I always feel when discussing Austen’s works, “if Elizabeth had not initially got her evaluation of Darcy so wrong, would she have learned to appreciate his goodness as strongly as she did later? Maybe if she perceived reality correctly the first time – if she had always known the truth – he would be just another rude guy but who has his heart in the right place? Maybe reality alone was not enough to make her fall in love with him? She needed to experience the lie to become fit to love him. Maybe sometimes a character needs to experience the lie in order to appreciate the truth. The unreal in the now can contribute to creating a desired reality for a later period.”
Hah! Now I’m counseling others on writing. Go figure.