Dave opened the door to his home and walked in. He took off his cap and jacket and hung them on the coat tree. As he turned to go into the living room he froze in place.
There stood Missy, and she was armed; a custard pie with a high dome of whipped cream rested, rather heavily, in her right hand.
“Missy,” Dave said, “I see you are standing there armed with a custard pie with a high dome of whipped cream. It is resting, rather heavily, in your right hand.”
“Nothing gets past you, Dave. That includes this pie.”
Dave tossed off a carefree chuckle. “Oh, now, don’t tell me you’re miffed about the little trifle I played with the orange juice this morning.”
“Not in the least,” Missy confirmed. “I’m miffed about the little trifle you played with the showerhead.”
“Oh.” Dave’s smile slipped. “Yes, the showerhead. I’d already forgotten about that.”
“Well, still, there’s no point in being upset about it.”
“No. We’re nothing but characters made up by a writer. Pixels on a screen, ink on a page. We’re not real, so those incidents didn’t actually happen. Ergo, you have no reason to hit me in the face with that pie.”
“This is all metawriting, you’re saying. Words about words.”
“And yet, I’m still cheesed off,” Missy assured Dave.
“Merely because you’re written that way. Let it go is my advice.”
“Because we’re not real.”
Missy shifted the pie to hold it in both hands, as it was getting heavy. “Are you saying, then, that Robinson Crusoe isn’t real? That James Bond isn’t real? That Harry Potter never cast a spell? That the Grinch never stole Christmas?
“We do exist, Dave,” she asserted. “We exist in the readers’ minds. Even though the writer has given no description of us or our surroundings, each reader knows what we look like, what we’re wearing, what race we are, and how the room we’re in appears. At this moment, we are at least as real to the reader as the prime minister of Great Britain, and perhaps more important.”
“You’re actually saying fictional characters have a life of sorts?” Dave asked, incredulous.
“We have two parents: the writer and the reader. Between them, we have form, we have style. And we are as substantive as many of the news stories they read each day, if not more so.”
“Um, you have begun two sentences now with conjunctions,” Dave pointed out.
“There’s no rule against it. Stick around; I might even split an infinitive or two.”
“Oh, sorry. Carry on.”
“Every time a reader picks up 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Captain Nemo begins his quest anew. Whenever someone reads the stories of Robin Hood, the Merry Men and all the trees in Sherwood Forest come alive in the reader’s mind. He can see the arrows fly. All the sights and sounds and smells and tastes and textures are there.
“And since – you see what I did there? – we’re the ones being read, we’re alive for the reader at this moment. We are in the reader’s mind, and what could be more important to a reader than what’s in his mind? The reader is already anticipating my smacking you in the face with this pie. In some senses, it’s already happened because the reader has thought ahead to what that might look like.”
“Well, then” Dave ventured, “if, in some senses, it’s already been done, there’s no real need for you to go ahead and do it, is there?”
“Oh.” He took a step forward. “Well, if you must do this silly thing…”
“As compared to what you did with the orange juice and the showerhead? I’m doing a silly thing?”
“A custard pie is both silly and clichéd. Still, if you must, then get on with it,” he said bravely.
“Thank you; I shall.”
Before she could do another thing, Dave thrust his hands under hers and shoved the pie into Missy’s face.
“Readers love surprises, you know.” And he beetled out of the room.
Missy dropped the pie plate and wiped the custard and whipped cream out of her eyes. “So they do, Dave. So they do.”
She took the necessary number of steps and knelt down in front of the sofa. From underneath it, she pulled out a hunting rifle and checked to see that it was loaded.
Then she followed Dave.
For someone not entirely convinced of his own reality, he put up quite a fuss before Missy pulled the trigger. And since this is light comedy, Missy faced no unpleasant legal consequences.