Does Reality Constrict Your Fiction?

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Thank goodness for friends! I have a friend/colleague I meet up with and we talk writing. Ruth (not her real name)
When writing fiction, does reality box you in?
Photo credit | EKHumphrey
and I are similar in a lot of ways, except she’s blazing through making changes an editor suggested for her novel and I’m not.
Ruth spent a large chunk of her career in journalism and her enthusiasm for fiction is infectious. 

She explained to me that when she started writing fiction, by her training and trade, she stuck close to what she knew—the facts about what had influenced her writing in the first place. She had often had a difficult time removing reality from fiction. Now, I know that truth needs to be within our writing, but she learned that sticking so close to this reality boxed her in.

I’ve devoured books about writing fiction, but I also worked as a journalist. I know about how the lines can sometimes blur between fiction and nonfiction. Having a friend explain so simply and so succinctly what may be keeping some writers—including me—from re-exploring the fictional truth of some of their work opened up a new energy for my revisions. Specifically, in one work-in-progress, I used a true story as an anchor. Ruth’s comment helped me realize that if I rework that weight of reality, I could certainly free my fiction.
In another instance, for years, I have been trying way to write the story about a living, breathing individual, who has intermittently expressed a desire to participate in crafting his story. A major problem for the nonfiction is that the story’s arc is not clear. The elements of the story, so intriguing to me, are not completely resolved. 

On the other hand, a former professor of mine encouraged me to find and write the story’s resolution—but not to delve into the writing and research until that ending is clear. Ruth, shortly after explaining feeling boxed in, suggested breaking free of that box to explore how I might develop the story as fiction. 

By not being boxed in by reality, the resolution can then become wherever my fictional character is taking me. 

I haven’t quite decided which path to take on that writing project, but I know that I certainly will take a closer look at my fiction to ensure I’m not boxing it into reality.

Elizabeth King Humphrey is a writer and editor living in Wilmington, N.C. She will be teaching an in-person creative writing class this summer and can’t wait to get started!


Sioux Roslawski said...

I think if a writer uses a real event (from their own life) as the basis of a fictional piece, they can rewrite the conclusion...resulting in healing (when the ending is happier) and resulting in more closure.

I don't delve too much in fiction but in the few times I have, it's been fun. I hope to write more in the future.

Unknown said...

Oh, I absolutely struggle with that. Any time I include something in a piece of fiction that was derived from an event in real life, I find myself trying to keep it "accurate" - as if that matters! It's sort of like what Sioux said - the beauty of fiction is that it gives you the ability to rewrite the truth any way you want. But I do have to remind myself of that - often - otherwise I'll waste a lot of time trying to force a memory to conform to the structure of a story, and of course the real world just doesn't work that way.

Unknown said...

I do find myself feeling like I've done the event a disservice if I don't maintain the accuracy of it, even though it may not fit well into the story. I'll have to explore using the essence of the event without worrying so much about whether it is 100% accurate to the original.

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