A Word About Fiction

There will come a time in your life, maybe it already has, maybe it will come tomorrow, but the time will come, mark my words, when you will sit back into your favorite chair, ice tea in hand, and it hits you: you have a story to tell. But, not just any story. Maybe not an easy story to recall. Perhaps just the thought of the formulating, developing story line makes you smile due to the humorous events involved; perhaps recalling the events that absolutely must be included causes you to choke up, or clench your hands in fists of anger. All you know is the story must be told and no one, absolutely no one can tell it but you.

In either case, humorous or heart felt, you want, of course, to protect the innocent, but at the same time ensure the guilty are fingered; but, this must be done in a politically correct manner. If you come across to judgmental, you are sure to turn your potential readers off; you are no longer telling a story, you are reading a verdict. If you are blatantly one sided, you are just voicing your opinion on a topic. So you have to balance the good with bad, the facts with fiction. Remaining impartial can be difficult, but it is the only way to truly tell a good story.

Fiction of course if the storytellers best friend. Creating that fictitious character just so is an art in itself. You know you’ve succeeded when you have all your friends and family members asking: is she talking about me? Is that ‘Billy’ character based on my life? If that happens, then you are doing your job as a creative writer. The key to a good story is keeping your characters real and believable. People must be able to say, “I know that guy! I swear, I know that woman!” On creating one of the characters for Letters, my current work in progress, I had four people (privileged to read my initial outline and draft) immediately identified a co-worker as the model for a particular character; they were all wrong. While I do ‘borrow’ likable and/or despicable characteristics from actual people, I do not totally base a fictitious character on a real person. For one thing, it wouldn’t be a fictitious character anymore, and more importantly, the character wouldn’t be mine.

Likewise, your setting must be just as real and familiar. As your readers walk through the park along with your characters who are conversing, they should be able to say, “I’ve been in that park! I know that fountain, that bridge!” This happens when your adjectives flow with the pace of the story, painting a clear and vivid picture with every scene. Your reader should be able to close her eyes and see every bright and colorful detail of the spring picnic, or feel the cold and dampness of the dark and stormy night. In other words, the storyteller that can capture and hold a reader from the opening chapter to the last page is good (and rare). The storyteller that can have a reader find themselves at the last page wondering where the next chapter is, is exceptional (or just plain unorganized).

One final technical point. Dialogue. I would guess my stories are 85/90% dialogue. I provide the setting and characters and plot, then let the characters take the reader through the rising action, the climax and the eventual falling action to the resolution (if there is one). Dialogue is where the storyteller can let her characters run a muck. They can say anything in any way they wish, and it’s okay. All the conventions for writing are out the window, so that Billy Bob can rant, “Bubba ain’t gonna lauw dat ta hap’in gin, heh!” And no one can say, “Oh my! Excuse me? That is not correct diction.” Hell, if Billy Bob can get it out of his mouth, it’s as correct as it’s going to get! Important note: describe your characters incidental fidgeting and facial expressions as they speak; it’s okay to interject little bits and pieces of descriptive actions if it will allow your reader to better engage with the action. “Robert nibbled on his right pinky as he pondered his next line. He suddenly jerks his hand away, grimacing and sticking his tongue out as far as it can go; he has realized he hadn’t washed his hand after cleaning the cat’s litter box. “Shit!” he spits running towards the bathroom to find his tooth brush.”

I tell you all that to tell you this. I include in every Foreword the explanation that I do not write about talking animals, nor little boys that fly around on broomsticks. I don’t write about secret agents, cloaks and daggers, or space, the final frontier. I write to hopefully present and address a pressing social issue in a story line that will engage even reluctant readers, a.k.a. young at risk teens and busy, stressed out working adults. While I applaud the writers of fantasy and romance and every other genre out there, I need to know that anyone who reads my words will learn something new; perhaps something they can use in their own lives, and/or share with someone they know. In order to accomplish this goal, I go to great lengths to research my topics thoroughly. My works cited page for Letters grows daily and as of today, list some 108 entries. In that the topic is violence against women and domestic abuse, my challenge (as a man) is to describe the incidents of out and out torture and murder of women in an unbiased, unemotional way. In this work, I question as to whether or not I was able to accomplish that task; I’ll let you be the final judge of that. I considered taking the tempered down road, but remembered that had been done; Hawthorne lightly addresses the witch hunts of the late 1600’s in The Scarlet Letter. The simple fact is, violence against women is a blatant, brutal civil/human rights violation that is never properly addressed. It’s a taboo topic that even medical professionals, medical doctors and psychiatrist shy away from. I do not hold anything back. I know I will be called out on all I write and publish, but so be it. 

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