Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Mixing reality and fiction

When you talk to writers, one of the subjects that evokes some of the most passionate debate is the blurring between reality and fiction.
There are those writers who argue that stories come out of real life experiences, that the writer has gone through tough times therefore they are able to best tell the story. 
This may be true to a degree. When I was writing my first novels as a teenager, I tended to write about aliens and war zones and my father’s constant mantra was ‘write about what you know’. They were wise words - wise words now, wise words then - but the problem was that I did not know anything. I was a schoolboy, what could I know?
Now, aged fifty something, I know so much. Too much in many ways. I know what deep personal loss feels like, know what it is like to be diagnosed with illnesses, know what it is like to see loved ones suffer, know what it is like to be made redundant by employers. To me, it is inevitable that those experiences inform my writing.
Others, however, recoil from that approach, arguing that that the key is in the word ‘fiction‘, that stories should come entirely out of imagination. These writers - and let me say from the outset that there are no rights and wrongs here - say they do not wish to draw from personal experience but would rather let their imagination run riot.
I suspect one of their reasons for the standpoint is that if you are writing about real events, things you experienced yourself, it is difficult to make the transition to fiction. To illustrate a point, I taught a writer who was penning a short story based on a house in which she once lived. She was really struggling and when I asked her why, she said: “Because the house I knew had four levels but that does feel right for the story.” My response was to suggest she chop a floor off the house because this was a fictionalised account. She did and it worked.
By all means keep it real but remember it’s your story when all is said and done!

John Dean

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