How the CW’s TV show Supernatural gives plausibility to fiction.
It turns out watching that first episode of Supernatural and falling for Sam and Dean Winchester was the initial link in a chain, and I’ve no idea where it will go or when it will end.
Chains of events are interesting things. You rarely see the chain while it is being forged. In fact, it is usually only in retrospect that you notice the chain in the first place. Think about how you met your best friend or spouse. What chain of events led you to the destination? Had you set out to be somewhere else, or had you meticulously planned for days, or even weeks, to be at a certain place at a certain time, only to have an unexpected encounter?
In Voices Carry, Brandon ponders how life is a chain of events. Recently I saw how the events that led to writing Voices Carry, along with the rest of the , Rock and Roll Fantasy Collection (metaphysical fiction), started by watching the TV show Supernatural. It was then I also saw how Supernatural gives fiction the feeling of reality.
Anyone who has read any of my books knows I have deep loves of both rock and roll and the paranormal. When I wrote my first novel, both music and rock trivia just sort of found their ways in–almost as if by, dare I say it, magic. When it came time to pen Scary Modsters … and Creepy Freaks (note the play on a Bowie album title), a metaphysical fantasy where a central character/love interest is the ghost of a rock star, fictionalizing reality set a relatable scene for audiences who do not necessarily seek out ghost stories.
Music is a universal language, especially when you delve into popular genres, artists, and songs. Think about how Supernatural uses “Carry On (Wayward Son)” as a de facto theme song. Since it is both catchy and classic, the song was already a part of people’s lives. Using it in Supernatural not only brought familiarity, it also meant the supernatural world the show is set in feels that much more real. Once we accept part of something is real, the rest becomes less intimidating.
Imagine entering the home of someone you have never met. Maybe they smoke and you don’t, so the air feels off—almost strangling. Next, instead of offering your usual Coke, your host serves you Pepsi. It’s the middle of the day, yet the house is dark. Since things don’t quite seem right, you are consumed with intimidation and a “We are not in Kansas anymore” feeling. Then a familiar song comes on the radio. Your feet start tapping to the beat. You even find yourself humming. Suddenly, things feel less foreign. The newfound comfort warms you. A smile crosses your face, and you eye the room. Little things grab your attention, such as how the curtains are similar to the ones your mom has, or how the coffee table has a nick in it in the same place you put a ding in the one in your parent’s house when you were a kid. Now these little things have made you more accordant with your surroundings, and you begin to feel at home—all because a familiar tune brought a bit of your reality into what once felt like an alternate universe.
Writers have long used little touches like these to bring readers into a story. In Scary Modsters, Peter Lane was inspired by Small Faces’ front man Steve Marriott (born Stephen Peter Marriott) who worked closely with their guitarist, Ronnie Lane. Merging the names of two well-known contemporaries created a Mandela Effect by making a fictional character feel so real that readers often swear there really was a rock star named Peter Lane. Add in that some of the things that happened to Peter were inspired by real events in Steve’s life, and those loose bits of reality shine through.
To take this further, because our familiarity with music has already made readers a part of Rosalyn’s world (Scary Modsters), slowly introducing other concepts, even though they may be outlandish to some, makes them feel natural. For example, if non-believers are only told reincarnation is real, there is no reason for them to buy into it. However, if non-believers are shown that Rosalyn has the tendencies and traits of someone who passed on before she was born, and it is done in a way non-believers can see how some of the their own, unexplainable traits make sense, non-believers can accept reincarnation as real, even if just while reading the story.
Similarly, in Voices Carry, when Brandon is consumed by a voice no one else hears, he compares it to the universal phenomenon of earworms (getting a song stuck in your head). In Moonlight Serenade, a humming ghost that bears a resemblance to Frank Sinatra follows Dale. The familiarity of both the tune and the classic look makes it so we hear the song along with Dale, whereas if the ghost hummed a tune that didn’t exist outside of the book, the spirit would be even more foreign and instantly harder for those who do not believe in ghosts to relate to, let alone find credence in.
All of this leads back to Supernatural and how its ability to make the unreal seem authentic equates to excellence in storyselling. The more bits of familiarity brought into a fictional world, the more real the fantastic seems. In cases like the Rock and Roll Fantasy Collection, where I wanted readers to believe ghosts and reincarnation exist in our world, music was the perfect way to bridge the gap between fantasy and reality. Judging by the legions of viewers that love Supernatural, apparently others feel that way as well.
Stepping back now it is easy to see where my love of a TV show taught me a lesson about writing that in turn spawned a collection of novels. Supernatural showed me that, in order to present fantasy in a realistic way, I need to hook people through familiarity.