True stories can sound unbelievable. Though often based on truth, they must often be ‘massaged’ by a writer for various reasons, including:
- protection the innocent or the family or friends of the innocent… the identity of the person or persons involved who may not appreciate the fame or notoriety;
- providing the story with a background which ‘makes sense’;
- to bestow a richly deserved ‘happy-ever-after’; or
- deliver your ‘character’ the karma they deserve because the slippery eel avoids everything they deserve in real life…;
- making sense of an event which the writer cannot understand in reality;
- because the reality sounds far-fetched; and/or
- to avoid legal proceedings for defamation, slander etc.
Which have you done in the course of your writing or come across in your reading?
How does a good fiction writer reveal the truths that reality obscures? There are two ways: by what she tells us, and by what she leaves out of the story.
The story the reader finally reads in your book is like the 10% of the iceberg above the waterline. The rest, the 90% below water is the blood sweat and tears that went into the 10%. All the things the writer knows about the story but left on the ‘cutting room floor’.
So what should be left out? Big blocks of back-story, The boring bits, the mundane everyday things that happen, the bits of dialogue that translate to ‘Hello, how are you?’ and the ‘Fine thanks. Hasn’t it been hot lately.’ Unfortunately, there’s always lots of interesting information about the characters, lots of intriguing research and darling little scenes. But, anything that slows the pace of the story, anything that drops the reader out of the story, anything that allows the reader to remember that sleep is essential, that phone calls need to be made, housework must be done, that’s what’s left out. Padding, filling, fluff, waffle, anything repeated…you got the idea.
So, what’s in the tip of the iceberg? The story, the whole story and nothing but the story.
As a reader, I love learning about people, places, situations and lives I will never have the time or opportunity to live for myself.
One of my favourite books which is an example of this quote about fiction is Richard North Patterson’s “Balance of Power”. It’s an exploration of the gun debate from the points of view of characters on all sides of the issue. I loved trying to understand different points of view, some so foreign and opposite to my own experience, getting some balance on such a huge debate.
Fiction gives a writer the chance to put the characters through their paces, torture them a little with heartwrenching conflict before ensuring they get what they long for and ultimately deserve.