Sunday, December 27, 2009

real fiction

“But that really happened,” the writer says. “That’s exactly the way it really happened.”

He’s saying this in response to criticism from his critique group that the scene doesn’t seem real.

“It is real,” he says as if he’s throwing down a trump card. “That scene is as real as it gets.”

Au contraire. Real life does not always make real fiction.

I think this is one of the big mistakes of beginning writers. Often times faithfully rendering something that really happened in life will lead the writer down the wrong path. Either he’ll put in the wrong details or too many details or the whole scene will not fit with the rest of the novel.

You can’t trust real life when it comes to fiction. Of course you use your life and things that have happened to you and things you’ve felt in your fiction, but you always have to remember that you’re writing a story. YOU ARE WRITING A STORY. Sometimes that’s hard to remember because we want our stories to have verisimilitude. But I believe we can only achieve that by carefully picking and choosing details that serve the character and story. You can’t be true to real life and do that. You have to be true to your story.

Or so I think today.


Anna Staniszewski said...

So very true! I'm tempted to print out your post and make my writing students read it at the start of every semester. :-)

Brian Yansky said...

Thanks, Anna--hope you're having a good holiday break.