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Hippocampus
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PostSubject: Experience and authenticity   Wed Apr 13, 2011 11:27 am

Is it possible to write convincingly about something that you have never experienced?

I have often wondered this. I suppose that it depends in part upon who you are trying to convince. For example, many fantasy authors seem to portray convincing battles but very unconvincing sex, but perhaps this is only because I, the reader, have had sex but have never experienced a battle (the nearest that I have come was a demonstration that turned violent).

However, it seems to me that real authenticity must stem from experience, especially when portraying emotions. I may be able to use my imagination, aided by photos, descriptions, videos etc. to describe how battle looks, sounds and smells but I could never describe how it feels unless I had experienced it myself (which, hopefully, I never will!).
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PostSubject: Re: Experience and authenticity   Wed Apr 13, 2011 5:00 pm

It also depends on the skill of the writer, or his/her ability to imagine. "The Red Badge of Courage" was written by a guy who had never been to war but it is largely accepted by people with experience in that field to be an accurate representation, for instance. I am always of the opinion that you should attempt to write about the experience and then run it by people who actually have had that experience and see what they think. There will be rewriting, more than likely.

Also, did you mean to apply fantasy authors haven't had sex, because they don't portray it very well? Since they lack the experience but you have had it, then you have a bad opinion of their interpretation of the act. lol
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rainshadow
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PostSubject: Re: Experience and authenticity   Wed Apr 13, 2011 5:27 pm

RESEARCH RESEARCH RESEARCH

For those without experience in a particular subject, thorough research is a must.

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PostSubject: Re: Experience and authenticity   Wed Apr 13, 2011 5:41 pm

I think it's quite possible to write convincingly about something that you have never experienced. That is what Research is for. A man doesn't have to go to war to be able to interview a few veterans and LISTEN to their story and learn something. You don't need the "real experience" in order to be able to portray an event to a reader - you only need to know enough about it to get their imagination to take over.

That is why the Mass Battles that Fantasy writers seems to write so well feel so real - such a thing doesn't exist in living memory - Everyone must use the details they are given, whether it's a historical document or a fictional novel. It is their imagination that makes it such a visceral feeling. The author can tell us abotu the clash of swords, screams of dying men, hands slick with blood, the smell of carion a few days later, etc.. but it's only through our own imagination that we make it "more" than it really is (words on a page) and turn it into a virtual experience.

Unless someone is writing a Romance Novel, it's hard to justify putting the details into a Sex scene. The vast majority of readers have had sex - the romance elading up to it may play a pivotal role towards the plot, but the act of sex itself (and foreplay) is generally secondary to the plot. A writer who is not focusing on sellign sex will tell us so & so had sex wtih what's his name, but they aren't going to turn it into a Penthouse Letter. FIrstly, because it would detract from the story itself, Secondly, because sex is very personal and everyone likes something a little different - I could enjoy nibbling on the odd toe, but I'm not about to want to read about the Hero nibbling on the Heroinne's toes after they spent the last week walking in sweaty leather boots across half a country, tromping through mud and swamps and down muddy town streets scattered with "presents" from a passing horse Razz
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PostSubject: Re: Experience and authenticity   Wed Apr 13, 2011 8:00 pm

Like rainshadow said, even if you as a writer havent experienced what you're right about you can always do extensive research about people who HAVE experienced it. In fact most experiences in the world have alredy been written about, in fiction and non-fiction, so much that it shouldnt be too hard. Now obviously there are expriences, and then there are EXPERIENCES, and everyone will perceive certain things differently. The important thing, I think, is to capture the idea or the spirit of an experience if you will.

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rainshadow
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PostSubject: Re: Experience and authenticity   Thu Apr 14, 2011 11:08 am

Quote :
I could enjoy nibbling on the odd toe, but I'm not about to want to read about the Hero nibbling on the Heroinne's toes after they spent the last week walking in sweaty leather boots across half a country, tromping through mud and swamps and down muddy town streets scattered with "presents" from a passing horse

Bad IMag. Just plain bad. (Not really... it was actually a very clever peice of writing, but I had shutter at the thought.)

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Hippocampus
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PostSubject: Re: Experience and authenticity   Thu Apr 14, 2011 11:49 am

RainCloud wrote:
Also, did you mean to apply fantasy authors haven't had sex, because they don't portray it very well? Since they lack the experience but you have had it, then you have a bad opinion of their interpretation of the act. lol
What I meant was that I am more likely to be able to tell if an author is portraying sex poorly than if the author is portraying battle poorly, having experienced one but not the other.

IMagius wrote:
You don't need the "real experience" in order to be able to portray an event to a reader - you only need to know enough about it to get their imagination to take over.
So, presumably, you need to draw parallels with experiences with which the reader is likely to be familiar? That makes sense. I will have to look out for this next time I read a battle scene.

However, I still doubt that intense emotional experiences can be portrayed effectively when neither the author nor the reader has experienced them personally.
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PostSubject: Re: Experience and authenticity   Thu Apr 14, 2011 4:01 pm

@ RS - LMAO Razz Exactly the response I was hoping for Razz I wanted someone to shudder as they read that Razz

Hippocampus wrote:
So, presumably, you need to draw parallels with experiences with which the reader is likely to be familiar? That makes sense. I will have to look out for this next time I read a battle scene.

That's were "Talent" comes in for the writer. A good writer knows when they can draw a parallel that most readers will be familiar with, and when to add more description and detail to "draw" a more detailed experience for the reader.

Terry did this very well in FOTF when he was describing Richard carving the statue. Most people don't have a clue what carvign stone is like. The detail he added about the various chisels, files, etc.. and the amount of dust, debris, etc.. and the sheer number of hours and labor was all well documented to give the "uninitiated" reader a very good impression of what carvign a statue form a block of marble would be like.

In a battle scene, you will see one of two things: Either the author will go into great detail of every sword blow etc.. (usually leaving the reader with a feeling of having watched the battle from "afar", but not actually being a participant) - OR - the author will describe vague thigns, like general numbers, smells, sights, sounds, etc.. and let people make their own images. We don't need to be in a battle to understand those sense - We know what bad meat smells like, we've heard someone scream in agony, we can imagine the sound of an armbone breaking, and imagine the pain that causes. Our imagination is more powerful than any authors words - especially when it is something we "fear" in some way.

Hippocampus wrote:
However, I still doubt that intense emotional experiences can be portrayed effectively when neither the author nor the reader has experienced them personally.

I think they can - but I think the more important side of that is that the reader is able to understand the emotional experience. It's all well and fine to talk about Love, Envy, Rage, Fear, etc.. but if a reader has never experienced that emotion, they will not understand it - you simply can't explain what Love feels like to the uninitiated. The author on the other hand, can express any emotion acurately by doing no more than watchign a few movies containing that element. By wathcing, listening and thinking, they will be able to see how others have portrayed that emotion and then be able to do the same themselves.

Of course, it is Easier for the Author to do these things if they have some first hand experience, but I don't think it's mandatory to tell a good story.
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PostSubject: Re: Experience and authenticity   Thu Apr 14, 2011 5:11 pm

Did I really use the word "shutter" for "shudder"... perish the thought!

I understand where you're coming from, HC. I think a good example to go off of would actually be a movie: Saving Private Ryan. There were a number of ways that SPR could have been filmed quite differently and told the exact same story, and in doing so could have made the movie more accessible worldwide to all viewers.

Yet by choosing the method that they did, they created what many consider to be among the most realistic war movies ever made. Using this method stirred audiences to very different emotions than what they probably would have felt had the story been told differently. Could another "friendlier" version of the tale have been as effective? Of course... but it wouldn't have been the same movie. It wouldn't have had the same impact, emotional or otherwise.

(Granted that example moves away a bit from the topic at hand, but I think it a noteworthy observation.)

Quote :
However, I still doubt that intense emotional experiences can be portrayed effectively when neither the author nor the reader has experienced them personally.

From a reader's perspective, the audience is going to draw their conclusions based primarily on their imagination as drawn from what they've experienced/witnessed. Basically it's as simple as that. While people will understand that war is horrible they won't truly comprehend the sheer horror of war without actually experiencing it.

A person doesn't have to have had these experiences to effectively convey certain emotions. At the very least any author worth a lick will be able to convey a situation and be able to coax the proper basic emotions from their reader even if both have not experienced the situation. However, that same writer, given first-hand knowledge/experience, is going to be considerably better prepared to tell the same story with stronger results.

I think it's safe to say that there are a ton of variables that could be considered when addressing this particular topic.

Inexperience can be addressed by talent, but a lack of talent can hurt even the most experienced. I think that pretty much applies to any profession, and writing is no exception.

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We should create a loop. That way when he gets back he can feel jealous that he's been out of it.
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