Thursday, February 21, 2008

Write About What You Know You Don't Know

Dear Dead Beat,

I am not sure how to say this, but I want fictionalize something from my life that I think would make an interesting story. Do you have any tips on how to approach something like this?

Dear Unsure,

For someone uncertain how to say something, you sure did say it with certainty (the mark of a good writer, Dead Beat supposes).

Write about something we know, we are constantly told. Although Grace Paley said it better in Trinity College Dublin all those years ago, "write about what you know you don't know."

Fictionalising something from our life is in itself not a bad thing. The danger is that we stick too close to the 'real' events. "Well that's what happened," my students of writing insist. Their fellow students nod their heads in agreement. They've won, I've lost.
"Thing is," I tell them, "this is fiction. We are not interested in what actually happened in terms of the events. We are interested in the 'truth' of what happened. And that is never dependent on facts."

Remember, the moment you put pen to paper, finger to keyboard, nothing is 'real' anymore. People become characters, dialogue becomes heightened, actions prompt reactions. So to answer the question above, my main advice is to take the real events as aspiration for whatever story then unfolds. The details do not matter. The real truth of the experience is what we are after. Create characters, allow them to determine where the action should go. Then as writer, come back and put some manners on them in the rewrite, but always, always, travel into those unfamiliar areas and discover something you did not previously know.

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