What Is “Real”?

Awhile ago, I talked to someone about movies and stories in general. This person mentioned (and I’m paraphrasing), “I take seriously movies like The Hurt Locker (2008) [as opposed to fantasy movies] because they are real.” In other words, works based on real-life events have more relevance for this person.

I’ve heard sentiments like this before in regard to speculative fiction—fantasy mostly—which I’ve mentioned in blog posts from time to time. But as I thought about what was said this time, a quote from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Bianco came to mind.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

I’m sure you’ve seen that quote before. If you haven’t, you can find the whole story here. I resonate with the rabbit’s question, because every time someone tells me he or she wouldn’t read a fantasy story because it’s not “real,” I wonder what “real” means. I don’t have to tell you that every fictional story is fiction, even those based on true events, because that is the nature of fiction. Otherwise, it would be nonfiction. But my guess is that the speculative nature of the story is the turn off, though science fiction falls under the speculative fiction umbrella.

An author who gives careful attention to worldbuilding makes his or her world seem real to me. I never enter Middle-earth without feeling like I’m in a real place, wandering roads that don’t exist in life, and eavesdropping on the conversations of beings who are works of the imagination. When I love a story, it becomes real.

But I’m not proselytizing for fantasy. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. I wrote this post, because of a conversation about the stories people relate to more than others.

What are the stories you relate to most?

Book cover from Goodreads. Hurt Locker poster from The Movie Database.

What Is a “Real” Job?

I’m a freelancer. Under my given name or other names, I have

• Proofread books, articles, legal material
• Copy edited books


• Line edited books
• Written short stories, books, and curriculum
• Ghostwritten books


• Helped other authors develop their books
• Reviewed manuscripts
• Written standardized tests used in various states

For years, I worked in an office as a part-time or full-time editor. But as a freelancer, I work at home. For all of the above tasks, I have been paid by publishers or book packagers working with publishers. Yet, I can’t tell you how many times people have hinted at or even said outright that I don’t have a “real job.” By that I infer that people mean a job you do away from your home, one that pays benefits.

  

Is this (photo at left, representing someone working in the food industry) a “real” job? So, working on a computer at home isn’t?

I know people who have jobs outside of their homes but lack benefits, because their companies chose to avoid those. Would their jobs fall under the umbrella of “real”? I have also heard stories of people working in the food industry who complained about their jobs. They leave home every day to go to their places of employment. Does that mean their jobs aren’t real, if they say on social media, “I’m not gonna work here forever. Someday, I’m gonna get a ‘real’ job”?

When I searched for images to use with this post, I found a meme that discussed YouTubers. I chose not to use that image because I was not sure about copyright issues. Suffice it to say that some YouTubers make a large amount of money working at home making videos. Apparently, some people take issue with that.

Many writers are well acquainted with this sort of comparison. Some don’t think they can call themselves “real” writers because they either aren’t compensated for their work or are not compensated to the degree that authors like John Grisham or J. K. Rowling enjoy.

Still others have been told that they aren’t “real” writers, because they write books for children or teens. “Real” writers, according to those naysayers, write for adults.

Suddenly, I’m reminded of a conversation from The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams. You know the one.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day. . . . “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

The comment that really struck me was this by the Skin Horse:

Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.

When I struggle with being labeled as not having a “real” job or being a “real” writer, this conversation from The Velveteen Rabbit helps me move past the negativity of those who deem what I do as “less than” based on a subjective standard.

How about you? Ever been told, “You’re not a real [fill in the blank]”? What did you do?

Editing illustration from clker.com. Ghost writer image from seoblog.com. Chelsea Cheeseburger Shoppie and Petkin by Moose Toys. Pinkie Pie Equestria Girl doll by Hasbro. Photos by L. Marie. Velveteen rabbit illustration by William Nicholson found at commons.wikimedia.org.