By Margaret Lucke
For a writer, where does real life end and virtual life begin? And vice versa?
The high-tech field has taken over the word virtual and made it jargon. But writers were creating virtual realities long before the first computer came along. We create virtual places (settings) and populate them with virtual people (characters) who live virtual lives (the events of which become plots). And frankly, there are times when the boundaries between the real world and our virtual one become blurry.
Take those characters, for instance. We all know that our characters don't actually exist. They're figments of our imagination, expressed as combinations of words that lie inertly on the page or the screen. So what gives them the power to make us love them or hate them or feel afraid for them? What is that gives them minds of their own, so that they can walk into a story and shove it into a new direction that suits them better, or cross their nonexistent arms and refuse to play our silly game at all? I know I'm not the only writer that this happens to.
Just like I'm not the only one who's been walking down the street, or taking a shower, or digging weeds in a garden—all solid, here-and-now, real-word activities—only to have a character tap me on a shoulder and say, "By the way, did you know this about my story?" Gone is the warm sun on my back or the water coursing over my head. I've just been pulled out of reality and into the world of the story. My awareness shifts, sometimes completely. I can't tell you how many times I've found myself standing in the shower with the shampoo bottle in my hand, unable to remember if I've already lathered and rinsed my hair or was just about to begin.
Yes, the veil between real life and virtual life is sometimes ragged and thin. And if you ask me, that's a good thing.
The novelist Anne Tyler once said, "I write because I want more than one life." To me, that perfectly describes one of the joys of writing fiction—and reading it, too.
My real life, though very satisfying, is short on excitement, adventure, and challenges beyond the ordinary—which is fine with me. I spend a lot of hours simply sitting and staring at a computer screen. All the action is happening inside my head. Though an observer would never know it, I'm busy catching criminals, climbing mountains, exploring far-flung corners of the globe, indulging in love affairs with handsome strangers, and doing all sorts of things that the real me would never dream of doing.
When I slip through the veil into the virtual world, horizons widen; possibilities unfold; an entirely new life awaits. It's a pretty cool place to spend time. Really.