Friday, February 22, 2008

The In-Universe Perspective

Wikipedia's Guide for Writing about Fiction has given me just what I need to write a cover letter for the manuscript I am vetting:
the concept of the "in-universe perspective."

I followed up this term I encountered in Wikipedia's flag on the entry for Tuvok, a Vulcan character on Star Trek: Voyager (more on that later). The entry's author wrote Tuvok's biography from inside the fictional universe, as if Tuvok were a real person, without reference to the real-world perspective.

The in-universe perspective puts the reader in limbo, like when someone you meet at a party talks as if you know all the people they mention.

I run into this pretty frequently as an editor, when authors write as if the reader already knows what they're talking about.

In fact, our realities--whether we're writing fiction or nonfiction--are all stories, patterns we construct out of a bunch of crazy raw material. All reality is, to some extent, fictional.

We tend to construct stories we can swap comprehensibley with each other.
But once in a while, someone's brain is calibrated in such a way that they tell stories different from the established norms. They are saints or psychos, or just people you especially seek out or avoid at a party.

But mostly what happens is people just aren't very good at telling their stories to strangers.
This is part of the editor's work, to point out where the author needs to get out of the universe of their own head and plug into some shared, real-world perspective.

That's my work this morning: writing to an author advising him to stop assuming his readers share his perspective. Now I have a name for it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey Fresca, thanks for this very informative little essay, as my mother would say, "You learn something new every day."