Guest Blogger L. Avery Brown writes about The Truth About Fiction.
“It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.” – Mark Twain
Smart fellow, that Mark Twain. He really understood the difference between storytelling via the written word as opposed to the tradition of oral storytelling. Case in point . . . my father was a master storyteller.
And any little thing could trigger one of the stories in his ginormous mental Rolodex of memories. Every time he told a story it was slightly different and yet it was always the same. The people, the setting, the ending – they were always fairly consistent even if he left out little details. But that was fine, because his storytelling did what it was supposed to do . . . it planted the seeds of memories I didn’t realize had even taken root until years later when something would shake them loose. Suddenly, all those evenings listening to my father when I was a child, felt like they happened yesterday. That is the gift of oral storytelling.
However, when it comes to the written word there is no ‘wiggle room.’ The setting, rising action, the climax, the falling action, and the resolution are always the same. And for those of us who write fiction, no matter what it may be, if we make use of ‘real’ locales and times (the present, the past, or the near future), we have to make wholly fictional stories borne from the recesses of our minds, as real and plausible as possible.
Our heroes must be real enough they could be a neighbor, or the guy who owns the pizza parlor, or that lady who sells jewelry she makes. They have to have real issues. There has to be an honest reason for them to take on the role of the protagonist. What’s more, these fabricated people have to be so real that they’re flawed. Otherwise, they become cartoonish. And if that happens, it’s difficult for real people to latch on to characters who are so perfect they cannot envision those characters as being . . . them.
Likewise, when we create villains, they must have a sinister quality that can make people shudder in fear or roll their eyes in disgust. But we must be careful to not create antagonists who are so ‘out there’ it’s hard for readers to imagine these dastardly fiends could actually exist. After all, really scary bad people are the ones whose darkness sneaks up on us like a thief in the night and before we know it, we’re caught in their web of lies and deceit.
But it’s not just the characters that must be ‘real.’ We must create real situations that take place in plausible locations and that have logical resolutions otherwise our readers will go: This is ridiculous! This wouldn’t really happen.
If a story has a great backbone but the overall picture…the sum of its parts, so to say…ends up making it come across more like Frankenstein’s monster than a delicate porcelain doll, it can be the death-knell for a writer. And today, readers are a picky and fickle lot. It only takes one poorly executed story to deter readers from ever picking up another title by the writer who almost got it right.
So the truth about fiction is . . . keep it as real as possible. Make the events, people, and all those little nit-picky things we often don’t think about so real, your readers aren’t just entertained by your words, they’re transported by them.
Yes, Twain hit the nail on the head with his observation. Perhaps that’s why he was and is considered to be an iconic writer of fiction.
L. Avery Brown is a former secondary level educator with over a dozen years devoted to the fields of history, special education, and curriculum development. Since 2007 she has become a devoted writer, something she’s loved to do for as long as she can remember. Professionally speaking, when Avery isn’t busy working on her own writing projects, she is also a freelance editor, publishing consultant, and digital media promotions consultant for Independent Authors like herself at BrownHousePrintWorks.com