Wednesday, October 24, 2007

writing from life

Okay, here is what I am focusing on while my homeland (SoCal) is burning down: writing from life, from the people who inhabit our daily or at least semi-daily lives. I just today finished (hooray! oh rarity, finishing a short story--especially since mine are usually looong) a story based on real-life events that happened recently here in Wayne County. I don't actually know any of the players, except one only superficially, and I totally made up most of the details, not actually knowing them besides the bare bones. Which is why we call it fiction! But there is still the dilemma inherent in such situations: how much to disguise, and how, and why indeed, to be truthful.

Pam Houston, a writer who taught three workshops that I've attended and someone whose writing I've liked, has said that fiction is more truthful than nonfiction. Her own fiction draws heavily from her personal life, and I think she's pissed off some people in her tiny town where she lives part of the year by some of her portrayals. But what she was meaning to say is, We tend to be more truthful in our fiction, more unabashedly honest, because of that very label, fiction. It ain't true, folks! Nothing to see here, it's all make-believe, these characters are just that--made up. So with that accepted cloak of anonymity, we can skewer all the sacred cows (and humans) we want, while getting away scot free.

Anyway, it's a subject I find interesting. It's one I usually play with, writing from life, or at least from the lives of those I know, whether closely or from a more reserved distance. Not always! But enough. I mean, come on. Life presents the most interesting, outrageous, "no way!" moments and story lines and people we could ever want. Truth is stranger than fiction, etc. It's true, no? What do you all think?

And by the way--if I'm ever going to skewer you as a sacred cow, perhaps you'll know--and perhaps you won't...heh heh heh....
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2 comments:

Dan Cullinane said...

abso-freakin'-lutely. my journals are the first place i turn when i'm starting a story. and i carry small notebooks wherever i go so i can jot things down, real things, to work into stories later. in fact i had an entire fictional story published that was made up entirely of actual moments from my life which i recontexted and reordered. i did it on purpose to see if i could, and something completely and totally new arose out of a collection of events that had already happened. the way i figure it, when your friends know you are a writer, they are gonna kind of expect to show up in your pages sooner or later.

Julie K. Trevelyan said...

Too true! And they hope to show up...but only if it's a flattering portrayal. I say, never piss off a writer. Bad juju rises from that....