K is a writer and she picks out why specific things didn't work, where the author got confused but wrote it as the protagonist got confused... stuff like that. I noticed something today and realized that it is one of the reasons I gave up fiction and, indeed, one of the major problems I have with people who live primarily inside their heads.
I read two sections today. In one, the character was dealing with emotional questions- is this really love? will it last? That sort of thing. In the second section, the characters were trying to decide what to do about someone trying to kill them.
The emotional weight, the vividness, the drama, the feeling about what the stakes were in the two sections was exactly the same. I was left thinking, as I often do, that the author had only experienced emotional pain and angst, and was trying to extrapolate that to physical agony and the terror of potential extermination.
Steve recently linked to an essay by Harlan Ellison. In the article, Ellison talks a little bit about a brush with violence. It was just a brush. He was neither the victim nor the perpetrator. For that matter, he tried very hard to avoid being a good witness. It still shook him.
That was one encounter, one step removed. As good as Ellison is at writing, as profoundly as it affected him, no matter what you feel when you read it, he barely got his toes wet in the shallow end of the pool.
He was never the target of such an act. Never been the force of nature who could do that. Certainly never been one of the people who step between the violent and the victim. For those who have, it is very different- different by orders of magnitude. Just being on the periphery, Ellison found it horrible. (I'm curious to read a before and after of his stories, see if they changed after this event).
This isn't about being a bad ass. Nor is it about 'people who live in their heads are wimps'. It's about teaching. Because this is the big issue with teaching: Many of the students have absolutely no frame of reference to understand what they are trying to learn. Neither do many instructors. How do you teach this aspect to students whose closest frame of reference is having their feelings hurt?