Thursday, October 24, 2013

"It's Not Them, It's Me - Part Two"

There’s a “Part Two”?

I know, I’m a little surprised about that myself.  But there was something about yesterday’s post that felt naggingly incomplete.  Or, more precisely, not entirely honest, at least, from a “full disclosure” standpoint.  What I wrote was honest, as far as it went.  Unfortunately in hindsight, it went dissatisfyingly less far than it could have.

So on we go.

I mentioned yesterday my discomfort about making things up – otherwise known as fiction writing – because of an innate fear of getting caught.  (And subsequently punished.  Which was in brackets yesterday as well.)

To a person lumbered with a guilt-ridden, “Good Boy” mentality, “making stuff up” feels like a precarious First Cousin to lying.  And guilt-ridden “Good Boys” never lie.  (And when we do, we feel terrible about it.)  Therefore, equating fiction writing with lying – you don’t lie, and you don’t write fiction.

But that’s only part of the story.

It is my opinion that, as capable and professional of a writer as I am, I would nonetheless have a divil of a time making the fiction I wrote hit with the wallop and intensity of the genuine article – a story that actually happened. 

I have an advantage in this regard.  I do not make have to make that stuff feel real.  It already is.  And I believe there is something compellingly resonating about that.  For example, the endings to true stories, though possibly a letdown from a dramatic standpoint, in my view, trade reliable contrivance for identifiable believability.

The door slam of a luxury car.  That’s the sound of a real story hitting its target.

Great fiction, it goes without saying – so why am I saying it? – can connect with the reader as well.  I am pretty sure, however, that my fiction would instead make people go, “I’m sorry.  I’m not buying this.”

And I’d fail.

Once again, however, there is more.

When I wrote yesterday that I feared writing fiction because I would be punished, the Italics Man in my head said,

For doing what?  Making stuff up?

It was at that point, I now confess, that I veered self-protectingly towards the superficial, Mr. Italics Man, for once, letting me off the hook. 

I’d be punished for crappy writing?  So what?  So I’m unpersuasive at making the imagined believable.  That’s no big tragedy.  I’m unpersuasive at a lot of things.  (Which explains why I have never won an argument.  And steered assiduously clear of the practice of law.)

The more serious problem about fiction is what it is, and what it reveals

About the writer. 

“You wrote that!  Those vile opinions and behavioral disgustingnesses came out of your brain?  We had no idea you were that kind of person.  You seem so normal.”
I have no idea how fiction writers get beyond stuff like that.

It’s fiction, Earlo.  A person writes murder mysteries.  That doesn’t make them a murderer.

I know, Italics Man, or even a potential one.  Though if they came to the house, I would still maintain myself watchfully between them and the sharp knife drawer.

I have heard actors who claim to be shy and yet they do not appear to be when they’re acting.  They appear to be naked, or abusive or homicidal and irredeemably racist.  They insist that’s not them; its “the character.”  And yet, they apparently found it within themselves to quite credibly pull that character off.

The connection is even less deniable for writers.  Actors just do what’s in the script.  The heinousness is not their own; they are simply delivering the mail.  But working back to the source, there was a writer out there imagining that putrescence. 

What’s their excuse?

Call it flights of fancy.  Call it “letting my imagination run wild.”  Understood.  But they’re your flights of fancy and it’s your imagination running wild.  In a particularly “Holy Mackerel!” direction!

Not everyone – even with the permission to do so – has it within them to make that stuff up.

And even if we do, a lot of us think twice about doing so.

Preferring, instead, the insulating protection of “It’s not me; it actually happened.” 

Available only in the comforting cocoon of literary non-fiction. 


Wendy M. Grossman said...

These two postings really resonated with me. I've been plagued by a particular idea for a novel for 30 years, and for much of that time I hesitated to write it because I felt it was unclear whether the central tenet was in fact *true*. Non-fiction I can rattle off no matter what.

On the other hand, there will be those who say that this sort of hang-up is just an EXCUSE TO PROCRASTINATE.

Which all by itself, come to think of it, would be a pretty great title for a sitcom.


The Daring Novelist said...


Fiction isn't about expressing what's inside, it's about seeking to understand what's out there.

Tom Teslyarn said...

Just start your 'fictional' posts with your favorite phrase, 'based on a true story.'