Artistic License

Creators are allowed to be inaccurate if the inaccuracy serves the story better than accuracy would – tvtropes

So I just watched Midnight Sun. I wasn’t quite sure what I was expecting from the trailer, but I thought what the heck, an innocent hopefully somewhat cheesy teenage flick is just what I need today. And I thought that was what I was going to get for most of the movie.


(obviously SPOILERS for the movie Midnight Sun.)

… then the movie suddenly pulls the rug out from underneath me and instead of giving me cheesy-mushy-teen-HEA-feels it gives me twist that makes me totally annoyed, which in turn makes it impossible to “enjoy” the depressing and tear-jerker ending.

How does it do this?

Well, by killing the main character for being exposed to about five seconds of sunlight. Or it doesn’t actually kill her right away but it does trigger some sort of thing in her brain that makes her suddenly stop using makeup and gives her hand tremors. Then she goes out in the sunlight for a longer time for a romantic afternoon sail with her BF which (presumably) kills her.

This immediately made me go


Because that just makes no sense. She’s not a vampire for fuck sake (and not even most vampires would have died from that). Less than one minute of sun kills her? Or at least off her body so she starts to die?

So this made me desperately want to google this disease just as I was supposed to be getting all sad and upset that she was going to die (and had broken up with her BF.) Not good.

A quick google search let’s one determine that while Xeroderma Pigmentosum is a real disease it doesn’t kill you like that at all. It usually kills the sufferers of it because they get skin cancer. Because they have these double sets of genes that make their skin unable to protect itself from the sun.

So Katie (Bella Thone) should have gotten skin cancer and died from that. She also would have been able to go outside in the day as long she wore proper protection and sunscreen, especially since they seem to be living somewhere close to Seattle and everyone who’s read Twilight knows that Forks is in that same neighborhood. And it’s the rainiest town around. And no clouds means less UV light (I think). Especially in winter.

So yeah, Katie wouldn’t be spending her summer’s tanning on the beach but never going outside during the day is kind of overkill. Or maybe not. I don’t know more than what a quick google search has told me about XP, but it seems like this was highly exaggerated to make a more angsty teen movie.

Which I get.

I mean I could buy the whole “not going out during the day at all” concept. Because it’s fun. And maybe it’s her dad being overprotective. For reals. Maybe the plot twist could even be that she’s not as sensitive to the sun as everyone thought. Or something. Dad’s just been exadreating the whole deal to keep her safe or whatever.

Instead, a minute in the sun turns this from cute feel-good movie to A Walk To Remember lite. But instead of making me reach for tissues it makes me feel like I’m watching a fanfic that’s been made into a movie. A badly written fanfic that someone didn’t research.

Or just took too much Artistic License with it.

And yes, despite what Bob Ross wants you to believe (or it might be more true for painting) that’s not okay.

Because just like the definition at the top says “creators are allowed to be inaccurate if the inaccuracy serves the story better than accuracy would” when your inaccuracy actually draws the viewer (or reader) out of the story, that’s not serving the story.

But Alyssa, you say, you write stories about werewolves and wraiths and stuff! That’s totally out there. That’s lots weirder than changing up a disease so two seconds of sun kills a girl. 

Actually, it’s not.

I’m not saying you don’t have to suspend your sense of disbelief to read stories about shapeshifters and magic like BOUND TO YOU. You do. But if you accept that you’re reading a story about werewolves then you’re fine. Because you’ve already decided this isn’t our world. It plays by different rules. So you accept magical monsters and witches and mate bonds. Because within the universe it’s explained and works (at least I hope that’s what you come away feeling).

When you’re writing a book set in what appears to be the here and now, the normal everyday world, you have to be careful. Especially when you have someone die from something like two seconds of sun. And have a disease that people can easily look up and find out the symptoms and how/ in what way a person can die from it. Because your viewer or reader needs a far lower suspension of disbelief while watching this story than when they’re reading about werewolves.

Think about it. If Katie was a vampire (maybe even half vampire, which would make it harder for her to heal sun damage?) then accepting that she’d been exposed to sun and that it now was killing her, would have been far easier to swallow (for me at least).  I would also have figured on some magical cure being found and her being saved and a happy ending (humm, that’s a pretty cool idea, maybe I should write something along those lines!) but that’s just me.

Vampire problems…

Anyways, what I’m saying is taking artistic license is a slippery slope and clearly sometimes harder when working in what is supposed to be the real world. Our world. But even writing fantasy, just being all ‘oh yeah, witches have acid for blood’ or ‘the dragons can fly at 200 miles per hour for 10 hours straight’ runs the risk of simply being too out there and thus pulling your reader out of the story.

Like the Game of Thrones episode where first Gendry runs back to Eastwatch, a raven flies to Dragonstone and Dany flies her dragons beyond the wall in what? One day? One and a half? That totally didn’t work and pissed me off so much I now just hate that whole episode.

Or like the whole Fifty Shades of Grey book series where the author taking artistic license with love. Because that’s not what’s really going on in those books (but I guess you have to be willing to suspend your disbelief pretty seriously to read them anyway). We also got the book Fifty is based on where Meyer’s took artistic license and made her vampires sparkle (why?) which I know turned quite a few people off. Or be it something small, like having witches being burnt at the stake in Salem (where witches were all hanged) or having every person on TV/movies have their finger on the trigger all the time (you don’t put your finger on the trigger unless you’re about to shoot someone. Like the second before. It’s all in the gun safety manual, apparently.)

Almost every book, movie or show will have had someone take a little (or a lot) of artistic license. Because you can’t research everything perfectly and even if you did, your story probably wouldn’t work without the changes. Like Midnight Sun. The whole end is built on this artistic licensed version of how XP kills.

So what’s the take away from this?

Everyone takes some artistic license. It’s just the way it is. Changing facts/ taking artistic license to make the story better is fine. Just make sure you actually have to make that change. Research a lot and try to find ways of getting your characters from point A to B without adding something outragous or unbeliveble.

Also be careful, because while we all do this to make our projects more fun and to make the plot make sense, you don’t want to go changing glaringly obvious things.  Because while some reader will buy it, many will feel cheated and even become frustrated with the story and you as a writer, maybe even starting to feel like the can’t trust you. And you want the reader to trust you, to know you will deliver a good and believel story. I mean, why else would he/she buy your next book?


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