Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Abandoning Truth in Fiction

I have a friend who is currently writing a story and posting it in chapters, or "entries," online. He currently has up to Entry #5 posted, and as I've read through his work, I've been consistently impressed with one particular thing. He is amazing at conveying character.

He undertook a project I rarely dare to try - inserting people from his life directly into his story. This is usually a very bad idea, copyright issues aside, because it's almost impossible to write a real-life person accurately as a character.

That combined with the possible offense to be taken if you show them in a bad light, their desire to do certain things or act in a certain way, and the writer's desire to make people happy can easily combine to have a huge effect on the story. McSamsonite consistently manages to navigate these hazards and accurately portray the personalities of his friends.

His story is amazingly true to life. Nobody really knows exactly how they'd behave in a zombie apocalypse - they know how they hope they'd act, but that's not the same thing. McSamsonite captures the essence of our personalities and uses them masterfully to create a story where every interaction rings true to those of us who are involved in the story. In this, he has accomplished something I would never dare to do.

However, this has led to a rather interesting side-effect. In Entry #5, a new character is introduced, being held at knife-point by an obviously insane man. The next chapter is supposed to explain who this man is.

Several of us have suggested that this man be Mary's father. McSamsonite doesn't like this idea because Mary's real-life dad is not the kind of person to go crazy and do what we suggested he do.

I think it would be very moving if he was her father, and I tried to explain why it would be acceptable to make the crazy person her father. Mary's dad is a wonderful person, and one of the strengths of this story is keeping the characters true to themselves.

However, as artists, we aren't required to keep every detail. While her dad would never do this, the person who functions as her father in the story does not have to be the same person as Mary's actual dad. He just needs to fill that role in the story.

This separation is unusual for ZA2011 (as we like to call it), but the idea caught my attention. As writers, we try to be true to reality wherever possible, but that isn't always for the best. I removed Heaven's Wrath from Earth because the fear of improperly portraying Earth communities was hampering my writing, and that decision has given me opportunities that I wouldn't have been able to explore on Earth.

McSamsonite has the option of abandoning reality to take a path that might ultimately be more powerful for the story. It is absolutely vital to have reality wrapped into your stories. The truthful intrapersonal interactions in ZA2011 give McSamsonite's story meaning and emotion.

It is equally important to deviate from reality, to take paths that aren't possible in this world, in order to truly explore the creative potential inherent in storytelling. Sometimes we forget this, so focused are we on accurately depicting the world as it is.

I don't know where he's going with Entry #6, but I know he'll do what's best for the story. As writers, we can't do anything else.


  1. I agree that as writers we try to be as close to reality as possible and make our characters as true to life so as not to disrupt a readers train of thought. I think for me it is easier to write fantasy so that the rules can be bent a little :)

    1. I agree. I usually write fantasy, this is just something new that I'm trying.

    2. Seconded. Fantasy is my favorite genre.

  2. First of all it is good to be true to the character. With that said, I heard that, reality is stranger than fiction. You see if you put people in extreme situations, for instance, if I had a kid and they were in a REAL bad situation, and this person could solve it, or they even started it. I could see me waving a knife and doing things that are probably wrong. That isn’t normal but if I was pushed into a corner I could see it happened. Of course glimpses of my usual self would come out, especially if I started to think about what I was doing. So, if you can keep the core of the person alive and bring him back. You can be true to the new situation.
    Strong emotion can bring out some extreme actions, though.

    1. This is true. It's always hard to know what people will do in intense situations because most of us haven't been in them. I think it's definitely possible to take a person and put them into unusual situations without losing the core of who they are. Even if they start acting strangely, it should still fit with the psychology of who they are as a person.

      As a side note, reality is pretty weird. :D