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View Full Version : When life is too bizzare to be believed as fiction



wildcatter67
02-10-2008, 02:50 AM
My life has been pretty eventful and I've met people who are amazing characters. I'm taking a short story class and adding bits of my life into my stories and it's funny to listen to the class's disbelief that such things can happen. They tell me I need to change my stories.

They also think I'm far more creative than I am. I get really embarrased when I'm praised for just writing down what I saw, but often don't want to share the real story that inspired me. Some of it is personal or unbelievable.

Does anyone else have to tone down the people and events from their real lives, before they can add them to fiction?

KTC
02-10-2008, 02:54 AM
I am the exact same. Bizarre things just happen to me. I have a crap-load of experiences that I have snuck into my fiction. I've had some critiquers tell me, "That just wouldn't happen to anybody". Yes. It would. It did.

(Even something like catching that hockey puck last night. I can see me putting that in a story and somebody saying, "how likely is that?" And that's a very small thing. Things happen that sound far fetched. You have to convince your readers that it would actually happen to your particular character.)

HeronW
02-10-2008, 03:11 AM
Extraordinary things happen to ordinary people all the time. Serendipity is out there, just because not everyone knows about something doesn't mean it didn't happen. One man survived in the 300 Spartans vs the Persian empire. One child is found alive after a horrible tornado. One woman discovers the gentleness and nobility of gorillas and tries to save them from poachers, ending with her being murdered. Examples are everywhere.

johnrobison
02-10-2008, 03:13 AM
I thought my own life was too shameful and bizarre to admit to, until I was outed by my brother when he wrote Running With Scissors in 2002. And I left out some of the more outrageous stuff for Look Me in the Eye.

Tasmin21
02-10-2008, 03:33 AM
My husband and I have an interesting story. I talked about it in this thread:

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=2018906&postcount=39

I wrote the story for a creative writing class in college, and was informed that it wasn't realistic enough. I called my then-fiance/now-husband and told him we had to go back and do it over, because we didn't do it right. ;)

IceCreamEmpress
02-10-2008, 03:35 AM
I thought my own life was too shameful and bizarre to admit to, until I was outed by my brother when he wrote Running With Scissors in 2002. And I left out some of the more outrageous stuff for Look Me in the Eye.

I hope this means you're writing another book, John! ;)


Here are my thoughts on this:


On the one hand, stuff happens to me, and to people I know, all the time that I could never write about because nobody would ever believe it in a novel. There's a reason why "truth is stranger than fiction" has become a cliche, after all!

However, if people aren't believing particular incidents in your stories, wildcatter67, you may not be selling the detail correctly in the story. That's a real gift--Carl Hiassen incorporates completely out-there characters (the guy with the Weed Whacker prosthesis, for instance) but they all seem to work fine in the context of the story.

The other pitfall is that, when you know something from real life, you often take supporting/convincing details for granted. A reader comes to that with fresh eyes, and doesn't have the benefit of the supporting/convincing details.

johnrobison
02-10-2008, 03:59 AM
Ice Cream Empress, I have two more books in the works. And they will feature more bizarre stories from my life.

I agree with your observations about readers coming to a story with fresh eyes.

The Lady
02-10-2008, 03:59 AM
What IceCream said. Apparently this is a common enough problem when incorporating things that actually happened into fiction.
You were there. You believe it happened. But now you have to make it real for the unbelievers.
See it as a challenge.

wildcatter67
02-10-2008, 07:12 PM
This helps. Thanks! :-)

Bartholomew
02-10-2008, 11:06 PM
I write about giant insects destroying cities, and people just critique it.

next time, I'll write about that funny thing that happened to me last week.

Lesson learned. :)

WendyNYC
02-10-2008, 11:17 PM
I thought my own life was too shameful and bizarre to admit to, until I was outed by my brother when he wrote Running With Scissors in 2002. And I left out some of the more outrageous stuff for Look Me in the Eye.


Your brother is Augusten Burroughs? How did I not know this? I have Look Me in the Eye on my bookshelf--it's up next.


My extended family (my grandmother's 8 siblings and on back) has some seriously strange tales and characters. Think Steel Magnolias on crack, and with a lot more sex. I haven't written any true stories about them yet. They just seem too melodramatic to be true.

Norman D Gutter
02-11-2008, 08:22 AM
Many events in my life are the stuff fiction could be made of. My first novel (un-published) includes one scene from my life. The next novel I'm planning will be based on a tour of China my wife and children and I took in 1983. A short story I've written is based on the time I learned my mom was about to die.

So I agree with you.

NDG

dreamsofnever
02-11-2008, 09:38 AM
Life is quite often too strange to be believed. I think the big difference between fiction and life is that, in fiction, something does not happen without a reason. It may take an entire novel to figure out the reason/importance of an event, but it is there. After all, an author has to pick and choose which events to fill their pages with and those events better have some way of tying in to the overall story.

I hope this makes sense! It's a bit late here and I think my brain is addled with the ridiculous cold we've had today.

wildcatter67
02-11-2008, 06:21 PM
Okay, tell me if I'm getting this right?

Fiction is so much tidier than real life. Fiction supplies all of the 5ws, including "why?". I need to make sure I'm fleshing out the facts with enough fiction to make the story complete, even if the story was not complete in real life.

If in real life, I was confused, overwhelmed, and blown away by an event, there is no place for that in my fiction. I must wrestle it into something that makes sense. I must finish the story that was started in real life.

Claudia Gray
02-11-2008, 07:20 PM
Does anybody remember that old 1970's movie, "The Deep"? It was a deep-sea diving adventure/suspense story about treasure hunters going after loot from two Spanish galleons -- one of which had sunk directly on top of the other. It was based (very loosely) on a real story, but they had to change one of the most important details: In reality, three Spanish galleons had sunk directly on top of each other, one, two, three.

The rationale was that the audience would believe ONE stacked sunken galleon, but not two.

dreamsofnever
02-11-2008, 10:07 PM
Okay, tell me if I'm getting this right?

Fiction is so much tidier than real life. Fiction supplies all of the 5ws, including "why?". I need to make sure I'm fleshing out the facts with enough fiction to make the story complete, even if the story was not complete in real life.

If in real life, I was confused, overwhelmed, and blown away by an event, there is no place for that in my fiction. I must wrestle it into something that makes sense. I must finish the story that was started in real life.

Exactly! You put it much more eloquently than I did. And that is why we all love fiction, because it has some rhyme and reason that we don't always get in life :)

Bubastes
02-11-2008, 10:15 PM
Okay, tell me if I'm getting this right?

Fiction is so much tidier than real life. Fiction supplies all of the 5ws, including "why?". I need to make sure I'm fleshing out the facts with enough fiction to make the story complete, even if the story was not complete in real life.


Exactly. Fiction has to make sense. Real life doesn't. I'd even say that fiction is the way we humans try to impose some sense of order on real life.

wildcatter67
02-12-2008, 07:52 PM
They HATED my last attempt more than the first :-( Instead of the unbelievable character being a support character depicted in 3rd person, I tried making the unbelievable character the main character written in 1st person. Being in the head of and centering on the unbelievable character did not make him believable to them. Trying to add details and attempting "why" just magnified the problem.

The teacher kept telling me to listen to children and I'll see how flawed my previous observations are. I don't want to listen to "normal" children. That's not what I'm writing about. She denied that is what she is telling me to do :-0 One student talked about how unreliable memories are :-) Ugh! Another thinks I need to write memoirs for awhile. NO! I don't want to out anyone.

At first I thought I could think of their comments at least as accurate as a person on the street, but my friend told me that isn't so. Writers in training and certain types of teachers are NOT typical readers. My friend thinks my stories are hilarious, but she has met a few of the children who inspired my characters, and others like them, so she isn't an average reader either. She knows children like this exist.

I wonder if it is more difficult to make the bizarre believable in a short, than it is a novel. The first five pages hooks the reader, so maybe it's critical not to bring in the bizarre until the reader is hooked.

IceCreamEmpress
02-12-2008, 08:15 PM
Post a story in "Share Your Work." See what reactions you get here.

If it was just the teacher who didn't dig it, I'd be willing to think it was his/her limitations. If nobody in the class gets it, it seems more likely that you're not selling it in the story. YET.

Accent on "yet". You can do it.