Saturday, October 27, 2007

True Characters in "True Fiction"

It's been a busy week, with no time to be ill, but somehow, that didn't stop a nasty virus from invading my body. I was pretty unproductive for most of three days of terrible congestion, fever, coughing, and sneezing. With most of my strength back, I'm ready to catch up on a few things. With help from my editor and proofreaders, Florence and Tayla, we have moved closer to finishing Raven Publishing's next offering, The Orange Slipknot, and hope to have it to the printer soon so early orders can be filled in time for Christmas. That and other publishing and marketing chores have left little time for writing, even for this blog. Now I'm ready to get back to my discussion of what it means to write "True Fiction."

In True Fiction, characters, though they may be completely made up, are a reflection of real people, experiencing real emotions, natural reactions, human qualities—frailties as well as strengths. I think we'd be hard pressed to find a fictional character who isn't in some way based on a real person, or, more likely, a composite people the author has known or knows about. Even though my characters are "made up," they inevitably have qualities of people I know intimately, often from my own life or childhood.

Characters carry the story. Characters own the story. Thus it behooves the author to know each character well. What do they want? How badly do they want it? What would they give or give up to get it? How would each one respond to a crisis, to each other, to the roadblocks you throw in their way? Once you have established their personality, convictions, limitations, and capabilities, they become the boss—the storyteller—and you are the scribe.

When I am reading a good book, nothing will make me put it down faster than to have a protagonist act completely out of character without any explanation as to why or how he could have done such a thing. One that stands out in my mind is "The Horse Whisperer" by Nicholas Evans. The ending was so completely out of character, that although I had previously enjoyed "The Loop," after reading "The Horse Whisperer," I have not read anything else by this author. I felt cheated when he created an ending that could not have happened with the characters he had previously portrayed. This book is definitely NOT True Fiction.

An author has to ask of his characters, even the minor ones, at every turn, "Would you really do or say that? If it's not something you would normally do or say, what has changed that would cause you to do or say it now?" If you don't understand your characters' motives, neither will your reader.

Similarly, it is essential that the writer of any genre, but especially "True Fiction," stay true to the premises he has set up. If you establish that a person is blind, for example, and suddenly have him see something, without explanation, your story will immediately be discredited. This is a poor example because it is too obvious, and I'm sure there are many better examples I could cite if I could just think of them, but you get my drift. The same with technicalities. If you are writing a novel and add a scene about wheat farming, for instance, and you mistakenly have your characters combining in the wrong month for the area in which your story is set, there are readers who will immediately see your mistake, and some will toss the book down in disgust and consider the author a charlatan. No matter that your book is fiction, research every aspect you are not sure about to make sure your "facts" are straight.

Next time, I will write about what I consider the most important aspect of "True Fiction."

1 comment:

Janet Grace Riehl said...

Janet, I'm glad you are continuing this helpful, clear, and insightful posts...I see a book coming out of it.