Monday, February 9, 2015

We’ve Seen it All...or Have We? By Linda S. Glaz



There’s Brian Williams at Iwo Jima, Brian in Iraq, Brian landing on the moon, Brian carrying the Ten Commandments, Brian inspired by MLK, and, of course, Brian reporting from the Nativity. We’ve had a lot of laughs this week at his expense, but let’s face it, he sort of put himself in the pile of…memes. When reporting, the American people expect the truth (well, we do even though we oftentimes don’t get it). But this recent, major faux pas has stirred something in most of us that should speak to authors.
Readers expect the truth in amongst the lies known as fiction! Why do I say lies? Fiction is one great big lie about the folks living in our heads. And while we fictionalize circumstances, towns, maps, locations, as well as the people living there, there is a certain expectation of reality that our readers want. Can we move a building or structure within a town in order to work an aspect of the story in creatively? Of course. Can we tell an out and out lie about the business or building? Now we’re ruffling the dander of the folks who own or patronize that biz or building. We can fictionalize the circumstances, but can we tell folks that the local McD’s is the hotbed of drug biz in a certain town? Not a good idea. So we might change the name of the fast food joint to accommodate the “lie”.
Can we tell an historic inaccuracy in order to create intrigue in the fiction? Certainly, especially if we have emphasized this in our notes, etc. Otherwise, how do the readers know we are fictionalizing the era? Should the historic nuances be correct? I’m talking about whether or not a Corvette was available in 1930 or not? How about the words on a Burma Shave sign? How about the exact time Rosie the Riveter came to be known? Did they make chocolate chip cookies in England in 1840? Did air industry start in before Columbus came to America? I guess you get my drift…
An entire book might be written about, let’s say Vietnam. A fictionalized battle is fine, few of us have been to or fought in Vietnam, and we want a particular outcome for our characters. Can we do justice to a fictionalized battle? ABSOLUTELY! But be sure that you didn’t use weapons that weren’t in use yet, rocket launchers that had yet to be produced and the like. You have told your reader it’s a piece of fiction to give them the flavor of what happened in ‘Nam, but be sure the accoutrements and such are correct for that period. It will lend a much stronger flavor to your story.
Let’s not come across sounding like Brian. Let’s make our fiction as correct as possible, even a work that uses fact loosely for the sake of the story. After all, 007’s antics weren’t all accurate, but Ian Fleming used as much correct information for that time period as possible. The architecture, landscape, most of the autos, fashion, and the like. And he introduced many fascinating “new” electronics and such to sprinkle salt on the story. He blended fiction with futuristic possibilities giving us the best of both worlds. And none of expected to own cars that could fly or dive under water just because James Bond could. Fleming let us know what to expect and he knew what was expected of him as an author. He didn’t try to convince us that particular items existed; he let our imaginations work with his stories.
Fictionalize and make the story pop, but don’t look like Brian Williams in the process.
Yes, there’s a fine line, but readers know when you’re handing them a load of hooey. And they don’t much like it unless they know it is your intention.
Don’t lie about your lie!

7 comments:

Davalyn Spencer said...

Great comments about the fine line of truth in fiction.

Linda Glaz said...

Thanks Davalynn. A really difficult balancing act.

Joyce Hart said...

This is a good piece, Linda. One little thing that I notice is fiction is using slang that people did not use in that particular time frame.

Linda Glaz said...

Yes, and that makes me crazy! And it dates the authors. When you have a person my age writing groovy for the 90s and current era, is so ages the writer. Or in the historic west saying cool. I totally understand and wonder what people are thinking.

David Smith said...

An excellent example is Stephen King's recent novel, "11-22-63," which is a great time-travel story set in the late 1950s. He and a research assistant spent countless days digging through the cultural trappings of that era. I was a kid living in Bangkok at the time, but most reviewers say all the effort to be authentic made the book much, much better. We can never be too diligent in adhering to reality.

David Smith said...

Linda, I've gotta add one more just for fun. In the 1999 film, "Brokedown Palace," Bill Pullman plays a lawyer trying to defend Claire Danes on drug charges in Bangkok. (Again, my childhood home, which is why I went to such a B movie!) Pullman walks into a scene, begins to speak "Thai," and it's pure gibberish. Literally made-up syllables. Now, granted, most folks won't know. But anyone with any familiarity with Asia had to be thinking, "Kidding? Aren't you even going to TRY to be authentic?" Same with "Anna and the King," etc. We should all make an effort to be as real as we can; sometimes it's actually a simple fact-check or two. Awesome post, Linda.

Linda Glaz said...

That would have driven me crazy! To think they made that up is horrid.