Kay: Living in a Fictional World

Dilbert  2-28-15 copyright 2015 Scott Adams, Inc.

Dilbert 2-28-15
copyright 2015 Scott Adams, Inc.

Dilbert is my favorite cartoon. I read it every day. Even though I don’t work in an office anymore, it still makes me laugh. It’s as though Scott Adams sat in a cubicle across from me for the last 20 years. He knows my life.

So I was surprised to learn just this week that Adams has a blog. I mean, my go-to cartoon guy is also a blogger? Who knew?

Today, in Are You A Fiction-Thinker, he writes, “If every new idea you encounter reminds you of a movie, song, or novel that you have consumed in the past, it might be holding you back.”

Sounds ominous, right? Don’t fiction writers expand upon where others have gone before? He continues, “Movies and books form a mental structure in your head of what is possible and what is not. But these are artificial structures based on the rules of fiction. They do not necessarily represent what is practical or possible in the real world.” Well, duh. It’s fiction, people.

Then he writes, “My hypothesis is that fiction-thinkers conflate fiction with reality more often than other people.” Could that possibly be true? Do romance writers really think they’ll be carried off by knights in shining armor?

Read what else he has to say here. What do you think?

14 thoughts on “Kay: Living in a Fictional World

  1. Wow, Kay! Like you, I think Dilbert is genius, even though my office days are a thing of the past. I would never in a million years have connected the voice of that blog post with the creator of Dilbert.

    So many things to talk about in that blog post, I could be here all day. I’d better pick a lane.

    I’m going to disagree with Mr. Adams and say that one of the roles of fiction IS to represent what is practical or possible or even desirable in the real world. Frex, look at the way the role of the heroine in romance fiction has changed. Two generations ago, she was beautiful, passive, helpless, getting rescued, getting raped and being grateful. Today’s heroine is probably still beautiful, but she has agency. She’s smart, independent, supports herself and is as likely to rescue the hero as to be rescued. And she makes her own choices in the bedroom, thank you very much.

    Fiction plays many roles in people’s lives. It can be an escape from reality, which is why so many romance writers receive letters saying their books have helped readers get through some desperate situations (like nursing a terminally ill relative). It can also help people to work through real-life choices or give them the courage to make changes, which is why so many romance writers receive letters from people who have made major life decisions (like leaving an abusive relationship) thanks to their books. Or it can just be a very fun way to spend a few hours.

    I don’t think most readers or writers conflate fiction with reality. I do think stories can trigger debate and change in our lives and in society.

    • I so agree. Fiction can have a lot of impact on real life because people can see themselves in it or imagine themselves in it. The part I found so disappointing is, isn’t that what Dilbert is? Dilbert is fiction, essentially. It’s real life, stretched. That’s what I’ve always liked about it. And that’s pretty much what fiction is, too.

      • Agree. I wonder if someone is taking him too seriously, and he’s reacting to that? It seems to me that his fictional philosophy is, “Everything would be great if everyone just left me the hell alone.” One of the recent cartoons was about how it was going to be a great day because he’d be only working with 0s and 1s. I used to think that way quite a bit. (-: Some days, I still think that way.

        But, thanks to my other fictional reading, I’ve discovered the joys of interacting with other people can be a lot more fun than the rather masturbatory pleasures of interacting with myself.

        (Although, I have to say that I rarely annoy myself as much as some other people annoy me. Which is better? Those fantastic highs, with those terrible lows — or a median that’s overall fairly contented?)

  2. Well, in the middle of Adams’ blog post, there’s this:

    “I’m not a reader of fiction. For me, reading fiction is like being in a sensory deprivation chamber. Life isn’t happening for me when I am forced to read someone else’s brain drizzle in fiction form. (I consume lots of non-fiction because it is useful.)”

    I’m not going to put much stock in a non-scientific hypothesis about fiction and its effects on the brain from someone who rejects and hates fiction.

    • He’s certainly won’t ruin my writing and reading life. But as a writer of fiction—as the Dilbert cartoonist—I wouldn’t have thought Scott Adams would label fiction “brain drizzle.” Argh!

      • (-: He seems to have a bit of a love/hate relationship with his own work. He never claims to be a genius, and it’s entirely possible that he thinks of his own work as brain drizzle that allows him to work from home and read lots of nonfiction. It’s not a bad life . . . .

  3. I gotta read the comments in a minute and get my thoughts down now. I like Dilbert a lot, too, and I appreciate Scott Adams’ thoughts on life and the world — but he’s full of you-know-what as much as any other fiction writer. If you tried living your life based on Dilbert strategies, you’d be an isolated, lonely person in quite short order. And I think Adams would agree with that statement — he writes for entertainment, mostly.

    Maybe he’s warning us that because his cartoons *seem* true, it seems like some of the strategies would work.

    I know that I’ve definitely learned a lot from fiction, and applied some of it to life.

    I think fiction writers must create a plausible version of the world — even a farce must have some level of plausibility. Then, readers can see the strategies that play out. The readers can judge for themselves whether a strategy works, or doesn’t work, or works but wouldn’t work in real life.

    We learn from the mistakes of others. Some of those are simplified, fictional mistakes. Sometimes they are horrible tragedies that we see happen to other people. And sometimes, we learn from the school of hard knocks when something happens to us.

    Adams (nature bless ‘im) has a certain contempt for the in-duh-vidual, and tends to lump most people into that category. I think the older we get, the more we can use fictional (songs, novels, short stories, TV shows) in our decision-making. We have a better sense of what’s real and what’s not, especially if we have been interacting with real people. We become individuals in a good sense of the word. I know that as an inexperienced kid, I tended to take cultural memes and love songs as models of the world. (-: I learned a lot from that when I applied it to real life. I was lucky enough not to get pregnant, stymied in my career, or killed, I suppose. (I’m supposing I was lucky, not whether or not I was killed, LOL.)

    We can make mistakes in life, but the more data we’ve got to draw from, the better decisions we can make.

    (-: Just don’t take Dilbert as a role model for good behavior. Teaching robots to guilt-trip people would be a Very Bad Idea, IMO.

      • (-: I’m obviously very engaged with this topic — I can’t stop commenting. But, isn’t that rotten when you admire a work of fiction, then find out the writer is a jerk? I think a lot of the truly great writers put a great deal of work into the fiction of their Author Persona. I respect Adams for being honest (or seeming to, anyway), and I also like to see the world from his viewpoint, sometimes.

        A friend gave me The Dilbert Principle when they left Japan, and I’ve read it twice. It’s a very straightforward, slightly cynical view of life, but then it ends with this bizarre metaphysical idea. I still haven’t figured out if he’s jerking the reader’s chain, or if this is really another facet of Scott Adams.

        I do tend to believe in Magical Thinking, though, just because I think it constantly brings your mind back to a specific problem, and that makes your subconscious work harder on solving it. (-: Now I just wish I could stick to a Magical Thinking program, LOL.

        Ah, I see I forgot my point: Perhaps it’s best to read Adams’ fiction, and ignore his non-fiction and essays . . . . I wish someone had told me to never, ever read any critical biographical stuff about Lewis Carroll . . . .

  4. Having spent most of my adult life working in offices, generally with male engineers, I’ve always loved Dllbert–right up until I read Scott Adams’ views on feminism. At which point I decided he was pretty much that little cat that manages the HR department in his strip.

  5. I can’t stop thinking about Kay’s post, and Scott Adams’ post.

    I do think that we are all drawn to Jenny’s fiction in part because of the community. As romance writers, we want to be about making a community, even if it’s only a community of two. Sometimes it’s about how to make a dysfuntional community work for the heroine, too.

    Adams’ community is dysfunctional to the extreme, and it’s a lot of fun. (Functional communities don’t have a lot of comic possibilities, or dramatic ones, for that matter.) Maybe because of the four-panel nature of the comic, we don’t expect him to solve the problems of the community in one day — or even over a week. And Dilbert learns to deal with his community through snarkiness and superiority. It doesn’t matter if the community wounds him (most of the time — sometimes he is in deep despair) because he knows he’s above them.

    I think as novel-writers, we want different coping devices for our heroines and heroes.

    And let’s face it, it takes a master crafter to make a dysfunctional dystopia work for four-panels, let alone the length of a novel. Do our readers want to be stuck in Dystopia for a whole novel? Do *we* want to be stuck in Dystopia over the course of writing the novel?

    Some writers do. And a few do a great job. But it’s certainly not for everyone.

    I wonder how Adams does it . . . . And then I wonder if I really want to know how he does it . . . .

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