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.
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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