Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Facts About Fiction



I love fiction that's based on reality. Always have.

I recently had to find my fiction sea legs again. I've been working on a story for an upcoming anthology I was asked to contribute to (it's great to have Muchachas in your life who see your potential and push you). Up until a few weeks ago, I didn't know what to write about. I had stories in my notebook I could've transcribed and submitted but I just wasn't feeling those stories.

Then, I had a great evening earlier this month and it sparked a story--my muse had arrived in the form of a man (nothing new there). So I wrote. It was great to write to get the story down on paper, but after further review, it was just a fictional retelling of actual events. Yeah, that works when that's what you're going for but I wanted to write a work of fiction.

A story.

About the characters.

Characters make or break works of fiction. They don't have to be likable, but they have to be relatable. That's my rule of thumb.



The night I finished my 1st first draft, I happened to watch Stranger Than Fiction (2006). It couldn't have happened at a more perfect time. I want to write characters that if they ever knocked on my door, it wouldn't surprise me. They should tell me what story of theirs they want me to write.


I just finished reading Calling Mr. King by Ronald De Feo (I received my copy at Book Expo America in May). I started it 2 days ago. I give it a two-thumbs up. As a NY'er, I loved the way he described Guiliani-era New York City. As a woman who can't wait to visit Europe, I loved that I was able to travel to Paris, London and Barcelona via those pages. And right away, I connected with the protagonist--through De Feo's words I liked and related to a hit man. I was rooting for him to kill people. That's a mark of writer who can create characters.


His characters also reminded me of people in my own life. That adds to the realism of fiction that I appreciate. The events may be fiction, but the people aren't.


Before reading Calling Mr. King, I read Hotel Pastis by Peter Mayle. I'd been sitting on that book since November. Read a few chapters and for whatever reason stopped. When I picked it up again a few weeks ago, once again, I was thrilled with the characters, and personally, very pleased at my comprehension of the French sprinkled throughout the story (majority of the story takes place in France). A few months ago, I would've been frustrated at not understanding what was being said.


The way De Feo describes art and architecture, you could tell it was a subject he was knowledgeable about or passionate about or both. My first novel that I'm working on, Letters to My Former Self, it's centered around the fitness industry. I am passionate about that. And when I first started writing it, I was still in the industry. Would I be able to take some of my favorite (and recurring characters: Morgan Lewis, Denim Feely, Tuesday Akers) and drop them in Thailand? Probably not without a bit of imagination and research so that I'm accurately portraying Thailand--it's people, culture, geography, the total feel and energy of the country. I miss having to do research for my fiction. That's part of the journey of writing the story. I need to find out all I can about my characters' lives, what they face everyday. It's been far too long since I've had to do research for my fiction. I've relied so much on real-life events and experiences that I haven't had to.


So here I am, writing fiction again. I've since used my 1st first draft to write a 1st draft. I took the same characters and part of the actual events but placed them in a different situation and watched how they handled it. I have a few more details I'm going to add to it as well. It's a draft that has a lot more to 'work with' throughout the editing and development process. It reminds me of screenwriting, but with more leeway--I don't have to stick to the "write what you see" rule. I can write what a character is thinking, their inner dialogue. Can't do that very easily in screenwriting unless you rely heavily on VO's or dream sequences. I write what I see in my head. I write what I smell. I write what I hear. I write what is.


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