Thursday, July 03, 2008

Real Life in Fiction?

Notes on Craft

Family Guy is amazing.

But that made me start thinking about the conundrum that is fiction. Sure it's easy to say it's all made up -- and that's how we proceed through workshops because assuming any of it actually happened to the writer gets uncomfortable at best and down right mean and harassing at worst -- but how much of that is really true?

How much of fiction is real? And what is the dividing line?

I know that I will never write about a physical location that I have never been. There are just too many interesting details that you miss out on when you have to guess or do "research" on a location. If you haven't lived it can you really say that the cicadas were chirping that night? Or would it be crickets? Or frogs? Or - god help me - some infinitesimally grosser insect?

Those well chosen physical details make the situation real. I have heard tell of romance authors staging characters on every country and continent they can make the least bit romantically appealing and these women haven't ever been over state lines [exaggeration]. But their stories show as much. They may have fabulous imaginations that dream up details but the only reason the novels work is because they are reliant not on an experience but on a romantic love story.

So if you don't have that, you have ... what? True to life details.

Sure, you get to pick and choose. You get to take which details you've experienced and decide which ones your narrator would notice and why. Which ones the narrator would ignore. But if you had none of that, or if you had extremely generic details you might not feel placed as a reader.

Then there's the whole "emotional experience" bundle, and the "did this happen to you" bundle that may or may not have to do with the physical location.

When you first start writing, everything is about you in some form. It's all vaguely autobiographical (or it's piss poor writing). But that use of true to life experience allows you to learn how to write, and the more you learn the less you need to lean on your own life.


Sometimes I just love to steal from my own experience. Pretty quickly though, often in that first draft when I'm typing things out I end up taking my life weaving it in then twisting it to make it more interesting. Wouldn't it be great if ... or If he thinks such n such here then it'll parallel with the opening and suddenly my life is way more literary.

Any thoughts? How much of fiction is real life? How much should be real in order to make compelling fiction? Or should the author completely distance herself from her work?

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