Alex Gabriel

Writer. Reader. Romancer.


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Why it is never “just” fiction

In recent months, I’ve had several discussions in which I criticized the way a sensitive topic was treated in a fictional work. The topics in question varied, as did the fictional works, but the course these discussions took was always the same. I’d object to the way the matter in question was portrayed, and would be told that it was just a book / movie / TV series, and I was making a fuss over nothing.

It was just fiction! I should be more open-minded; it wasn’t meant to be taken so seriously, OMG; it was all in good fun, and everybody (except me, apparently) understood that; the only thing that actually mattered with fiction was how good (well-written, well-acted, …) it was.

Except that this is complete nonsense.

letters-637182Fiction does not exist in a vacuum. Books, movies, TV series: All fiction is both the result of the common views and opinions of the society it is created in, and – inevitably – a reinforcement of these views and opinions. Even the most uncontroversial novel or TV series incorporates countless social mores and generally held beliefs, and it reinforces them simply by referencing them.

Fiction can (and does) perpetuate commonly held ideas, reinforce stereotypes, prejudices and other beliefs, and validate popular opinions. It always does this, by its very nature; it’s a feature, not a bug. Fiction can also bring people to think and reevaluate, of course. Either way, it has a very real and material impact on people’s views, and on their lives. It matters.

A homophobic book or movie will validate the homophobic views of readers or viewers, and support a general air of homophobia in society. A comedy about men being drugged and raped by a woman (and loving it!) will perpetuate the harmful myth that men cannot actually be raped by women. And so forth. It’s the same for all issues.

Treating a sensitive issue in a highly objectionable way in fiction is not just a bit of good fun. Instead, it is both a symptom of a problem in society, and an actively harmful influence that perpetuates the problem.

So, no. It’s never “just” fiction.

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Bewildering Plots: The Secret Coolness of Lost Lovers

Several bestselling books in recent years have featured the protagonist looking into the mysterious death of a loved one, and discovering that their beloved was leading a secret life as – say – a heroic amnesiac assassin, or infamous pop star art thief, or celebrated grave-robbing archeologist. When they weren’t with the protagonist, they were actually out saving the world with their metal arm (or making youths faint in rapture while making off with priceless treasures, or sexily wielding a bullwhip while breaking into the tombs of dead kings… whatever), and were even more amazing and wonderful than the protagonist ever suspected.

love-in-a-cage-515682These books have made me stand in a number of bookstores in complete, befuddled lack of comprehension. My theory is that the interest of these stories lies in puzzling out an intriguing mystery, and perhaps – to some extent – in learning to live with loss while keeping the love alive. But this is a wild guess, because the truth is that I do not understand. At all.

This is basically a love story where one of the lovers is already gone forever, right? It’s about losing someone you love, and then discovering you never really knew them at all. You loved them, sure, but you never knew and loved them as completely as you would have wished to know and love them. And now it’s too late.

No. Just, no. Have I mentioned no?

It’s no better when the dead loved one is a sibling, or parent, or whatever. (It IS better when the person who died turns out to have been a villain all along, because that’s a different kind of tale altogether.)

I think every reader has certain plots that just don’t work for them. I’ve found that this is one of mine.

Maybe someone who does like this kind of plot can explain the attraction to me someday.

Do you like this kind of plot – and if so, what is it that attracts you? What kinds of plot don’t work for you?


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On the love of narrative clichés

I have a confession to make: I love narrative clichés. Not all of them, of course, but certain well-used plot ideas get me interested every time. Undercover in a gay bar, pretending to be a couple, amnesia, enemies forced to work together – yes! Sign me up!

Sure, these plots have been done many times before. But the same is true of every plot; after thousands of years of fiction being created all over the world, there isn’t a single plot or theme that hasn’t been put through its paces in countless different ways.

The magic is in the details. Originality is in the writing. It’s in the storytelling, the specific set of characters, the way they meet the challenges that confront them, how the author uses familiar themes in fresh ways and plays with existing conventions. I’ve read absolutely amazing, fresh and original books built around a basic premise that sounds tired and worn.

Given my love of narrative clichés, writing “First Contact” was an act of pure self-indulgence. Cops undercover as a couple in a gay bar (okay, a bdsm club run by the mafia – but that’s details)… 😉

Do you love any narrative clichés? Tell me about it!


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Meta Rec: The Rape of James Bond

“The Rape of James Bond. On Sexual Assault, and ‘Realism’ in Popular Culture” by Sophia McDougall is a very interesting essay on the way rape is treated as a subject in fiction.

McDougall makes several excellent points about the fact that fictional rape is frequently treated as an expected part of “realistic” scenarios… but only when it happens to women. While fictional rape is commonplace for female characters, the rape of male characters – particularly traditionally masculine protagonists – is all but entirely unheard of. Despite the fact that it, too, would be more “realistic” under the circumstances these characters often find themselves in.

My summary does not do this thought-provoking essay justice, so I will hold my tongue and let you go read it for yourselves.


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Fiction vs Reality

I have never liked fiction to have too close a connection with my lived reality. As far as I can remember, this has always been the case, and it’s a general thing that extends to fiction of all kinds, from books to movies to epic poetry to song lyrics. I don’t want to recognize places, things, people or setting details that have a direct connection to my own life.

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