How was dinner last night at Chez Hoity Toity?
Unbelievable! It was all so elegant, I felt like I was in a movie or something!
That’s great! How was that movie you went to afterwards?
Oh, the movie? Totally unbelievable. I could barely get through it.
When we find ourselves in unbelievable situations, the need to justify our feelings of uneasiness can be soothed through depersonalization.
When I say to myself, for example:
I feel like I am living in a movie,
I am actually saying, more precisely:
I feel as if my experiences have been crafted and contrived by someone other than myself, for entertainment purposes. The events in my life could entertain an audience.
Why then, do we justify the same unbelievable situations with an apparently contradictory statement:
The truth is often stranger than fiction.
This trite phrase can be flipped around to a similar (but by no means semantically equivalent) sentiment:
I wouldn’t believe this if I read it in a book.
This one is an odd statement indeed, but it can be translated as follows:
If an author had concocted this bizarre series of events from her twisted brain and written it out in story form, the work wouldn’t sell because no audience would find it believable. It would feel too contrived.
What does it even mean for an author to come up with a story that does not even sound like a story? Further, what does it mean to say that an audience would not find a made-up story believable?
And finally, how could a real life event be too bizarre for reality? Though these questions are daunting at first, the answer is not so complex. We look to fiction to take us out of — but also to reflect — our everyday lives. We care a great deal about the believability of stories. For any author, that’s a tall order, to be sure.
Of course, if audiences are so demanding, we may wonder how anyone knows how to write good stories in the first place. This consideration leads us to another important question: