Wish-fulfillment and writing

HareBrain

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#1
wish-fulfillment.jpg


It struck me a while ago that perhaps the most fun way to write a book would be to have the characters do things you wish you could do, but experience hardship and danger while doing so.

There's a bit of this in Goddess Project, with the freediving in ancient ruins and so on, but not a lot. I made it more of a conscious thing in the YA I wrote recently, and it seemed to speed the writing up and make it more involving, though that might have been for other reasons. I'm thinking of trying it in the third Fire Stealers book as much as possible within the confines of the plot.

Does anyone else adopt this as a conscious approach, or do you recognise that you've done it unconsciously? What are the advantages and pitfalls you've experienced or can foresee? When might it become indulgent?
 

Brian G Turner

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#2
Does anyone else adopt this as a conscious approach, or do you recognise that you've done it unconsciously?
I don't recognize it at all with any of my own work - I'm looking at other people, writing their stories in my own way. It's kind of what I am and do in life in general - an outsider, looking in, trying to create meaning from it.

The fear that fantasy was mainly wish-fulfillment actually kept me away from the genre. I have zero interest in experiencing other people's fantasies - but once I took the plunge into reading the genre quite widely my initial suspicion and cynicism has usually been proven wrong.

2c and a good topic. :)
 

Toby Frost

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#4
I don't feel that I'm writing downright wish fulfillment (although living in a functional and successful Britain would be quite nice). Space Captain Smith's world is rather dangerous, and the world of Up To The Throne is even worse. I think I'd quite like to meet some of the characters in Space Captain Smith, though (others, less so).

I think what I write is less wish-fulfillment than a mixture of venting mechanism and veiled commentary on real life. However, I do like the sense of exploring a new territory, even an unpleasant one: I remember getting the same feeling from playing primitive computer games when I was much younger.
 

HareBrain

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#5
However, I do like the sense of exploring a new territory, even an unpleasant one
A think a lot of the "wish-fulfillment" in my writing is about this aspect rather than making the MC a better version of me, or whatever. It reminds me of playing Tomb Raider: that sense of exploring beautiful locations and solving ancient mysteries while facing dangers. For me, it wouldn't have been as good if the locations were dull, dreary or oppressive -- these were places I wanted to explore in real life (minus the danger of course) but had no prospect of doing so.

But wouldn't you say the British Space Empire is sort of wish-fulfillment as well as satire?
 

Mouse

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#6
My current characters fight demons. Who wouldn't want to do that?

Course I write stuff that I want to do. Mac gets beamed into space and goes on an adventure. Daniel has a talking dog. Allery's a demon hunting immortal. The love of Alistair's life dies in a gas explos... oh wait, not that one.
 

Toby Frost

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#7
Exactly! I found just that in Thief and Morrowind. Titus Groan includes a quote from Bunyan, to the effect of "Wouldst thou see a man in the clouds, and have him talk to thee?" It's that idea of seeing something beyond the normal, exploring something weird and interesting.

You're right, the Space Empire is a mixture of parody and wish-fulfillment: I suppose "affectionate mockery" would be a good way of putting it. Early on I made the decision to avoid the obvious route (see other thread!) of making it ridiculously jingoistic or a crude lecture that invading other people's planets is bad, mmmkay. Occupying that nuanced middle ground gives you far more room to explore the ideas and, crucially, make jokes.
 

The Bluestocking

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#8
It struck me a while ago that perhaps the most fun way to write a book would be to have the characters do things you wish you could do, but experience hardship and danger while doing so.
Erm... What did you think I've been doing with writing my comic fantasy stories all this time (and - mostly - having fun and cackling to myself while writing it all down)? :p

My two little characters are going on adventures that I can only dream of! :)
 

HareBrain

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#10
Great responses so far.

I was reminded today of something I read about Ian Fleming's James Bond novels, which were really all wish-fulfillment. Not only for the author, but the readers, who in 1950s austerity Britain loved to imagine themselves drinking Dom Perignon 48 (or whatever), getting their shirts handmade in Jermyn Street, smoking expensive cigars and wasting shady foreign types who threatened Britain's interests. By drawing on his own wishes, and having them equal a large proportion of the reading public's, Fleming had a massive success.

So far, so obvious. Same goes for the "sex and shopping" novels. And same for Harry Potter, I imagine -- replacing the reader's own school with something rooted in much the same culture but magical and adventurous.

But is it harder to do in most SFF? Though a reader might get a vicarious thrill from reading about a sword-wielding hero, hacking orcs to bits isn't something most people really want to do, or can translate to their real-world selves.
 

Phyrebrat

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#12
I hadn't ever though about this, and I'm still not sure. Often I wish I could step into my novels bcause I love the paranormal/supernatural world of my childhood that slowly evaporated as I grew older. However, I'd also like to know what I had planned for my characters before stepping into their world, so that I could make sure I didn't die as well.

My stories tend to end with everyone dying so no, it's not wish fulfilment.

There is something I'm going to say now which is a bit embarassing or cringe-y. Erm... for me there is a communion going on when I write, between me and my playworld, that is half-vicarious, half-game-of-chicken:

Parent: 'Don't put your tongue on that electric rail, Christopher!'
Me: <crouches and pokes tongue towards the rail>

But more than that, it's also like that feeling when you hear a song that instantly and profoundly transfers you back to a certain time or event. That's what I really mean by communion. It's like honouring the memory of something: So, my childhood, or formative things, have largely been concerned with lakes and rivers, and nature. When I write about those subjects, it's like a connection with my past being made. I feel happier, more connected, more skilled as a writer, and a great sense of comfort.

pH
 

AlexH

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#13
It may change, but I can't tell that any of my stories involve personal wish fulfillment, whether consciously or subconsciously. I didn't realise until I read this thread that a lot of my stories are about fighting injustice and/or wishing to improve others' lives. The teenage girl who wants to be a pro wrestler (set in the 90s when girls aren't supposed to wrestle - I've never wanted to wrestle) and the boy who wants to be an artist, but is ignored by his family and wants to give up - all he needs is some encouragement (I have a very supportive family).

The mention of James Bond leads me to a sci-fi anthology I'm reading. It's a mix of new stories and old stories, and old-story-wise, I think it contains too many white-male wish fulfillment fantasies. The parallel universe where the women are submissive and beautiful. The guy who's rubbish at maths, but wants to marry his lecturer's daughter. The lecturer decides who his daughter marries, and the daughter has no say in it! I'm two thirds through the story and the daughter hasn't appeared, never mind said a word. Another I can't remember in much detail, but the white-male was transported to a "primitive" world where the women were beautiful and seemingly at his whim.

I guess it's another topic on whether so many of these dodgy stories should be in modern anthologies, but it seems to be a definite pitfall of wish fulfillment stories. I imagine 50 Shades of Grey was wish-fulfillment, so maybe the gender-reversal was one of the reasons why that did so well (I may be talking crap as I don't exactly know what 50 Shades is about).

Edit: @Phyrebrat's post has made me realise I would like to step into some of my world's. Not many of these other-world stories are finished though, so maybe I've discovered the reason!

I don't think what you said is embarassing.

Edit part II: "My stories tend to end with everyone dying so no, it's not wish fulfilment."

Spoiler alert! ;)
 
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CTRandall

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#15
hacking orcs to bits isn't something most people really want to do, or can translate to their real-world selves.
Perhaps you should consider the combined profits of Blizzard and Bethesda games before you spout such nonsense :)

I was initially going to say that wish-fulfilment plays no part in my writing but, as I thought about it, I realized it does creep into all sorts of nooks and crannies, often in the quiet moments when characters are chatting. I like to liven these scenes up with small things, like using a stick to bat hot coals from the campfire towards another character (not that I would ever have done that in my younger days :whistle:).
 

Venusian Broon

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#16
Perhaps you should consider the combined profits of Blizzard and Bethesda games before you spout such nonsense :)
Actually I think the main driver for me is XP points, levelling up and loot. Oh and perhaps the satisfying 'ting' when you instantly head shot a raider with a sniper rifle in F4.

I really have no desire to hack/shot anything up in real life the way the games work. :)

Back to OP, I think I'm with @Phyrebrat and @CTRandall on this one. It's not in my mind to 'do wish-fulfilment', at least not that I am aware of. It can turn me off, reading others work, if it is far too blatant.

I think I'm much more interested in bizarre situations and settings and how flawed humans react in these circumstances. Both Achilles and Gilgamesh, for all their feats of strength and bravery, (and at least in the first case hero worship from the listeners and readers of his tales) are far more interesting because of their failures and losses.
 

Phyrebrat

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#17
Did you see that people? The Oxbridge-educated theoretical physicist agrees with me.

This probably means henceforth you should all treat me as a fount of wisdom.

Right? ;)

pH
(I only typed the above because I ‘Liked’ VB’s post then thought ‘ooo how conceited of me!’)

Edit: thank you Apple for your inscrutable (and unscrupulous) autocorrect
 
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Joshua Jones

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#19
But is it harder to do in most SFF? Though a reader might get a vicarious thrill from reading about a sword-wielding hero, hacking orcs to bits isn't something most people really want to do, or can translate to their real-world selves.
I think it may depend a bit on the reader. It seems to me that some people like that because they wish for a world less mundane than the real world, with magic and orcs and swordsmen/women and the like. For them, yes, it probably is wish fulfillment of living in such a world. For others, the setting is less important as the wish fulfillment of being the sort of person who was confident and skilled enough to pick up that sword and stand against the orcish hoard. So, less wish fulfillment of slicing through orcs and more about desired traits they may see lacking in themselves.

Then there are weirdos like me who are more interested in exploring complex themes and characters than wish fulfillment...
 

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