I’ve talked about Subjunctive Scenes before, but I’d like to say a few words now about the things that they can do to a person.
A Subjunctive Scene is, by definition, a scene that isn’t “really” happening, a scene that doesn’t take place in a story, but would or could or should or might, if circumstances were different. The contention seems to be that these scenes are to be avoided, but that is only because they are dangerous scenes.
They are to be treated as dangerous because they can result in infection and even inflammation, under certain circumstances. This inflammation can present itself in one of two opposing forms:
Type 1 Subjunctivitis occurs when the audience ignores the impact of the scene completely, claiming that it didn’t matter at all to the narrative because it “didn’t really happen”. This can present as a side-effect among small numbers of the intended audience, in which case it is possible it’s due to a personal misreading of the text as these audience members may be subject to market forces that are statistically negligible, but if too much of the audience sustains this reaction, the efficacy of the device in this instance should be questioned.
Type 2 Subjunctivitis, however, occurs when the audience or readership does not realize that the subjunctive event was fictional, or occurred outside of the agreed-upon diegesis. This can be a risky effect to present—if done well, it can keep the audience engaged and on their toes through the use of “twists” in the tale. But if left unchecked, it can mire readership in a miasma of semantic discontinuity, uncertain of the reality of any of the presented elements.
In some extreme cases, this uncertainty has been known to translate to the actual world of the audience, whereupon they can then no longer even be certain of that.