A phrase that troubles me when I’m either taking or giving a creative writing class is when someone blurts out about a piece of writing: “But that really happened,” or “But it’s true.”
When anyone says that, I get the feeling that the writer believes that real life – or faction – is in some way better than fiction. They believe that if something is true – in the sense that it actually occurred – the importance of the writing is elevated.
Fiction is to non-fiction what a painting is to a snapshot. The reason fiction writing is so glorious, so universal, so powerful is that the entire human experience is elevated through story. Characters are richer and deeper because we understand their feelings and motivations. Descriptions matter more because we see not just through our own eyes, but through the eyes of an artist. Our deepest emotions are tapped and brought to life. We enter into worlds that are otherwise invisible to us. We laugh, we weep, we descend into horror, we are brought to ways of thinking we simply could not on our own.
If you read someone’s journal, chances are you’ll get pretty drowsy fairly quickly. But if you read a journal in novel form – that is, created as part of a story, a journey, an experience that is transformed from the personal to the archetypal, then you’re hooked. You experience. You feel. You care. You think. You think anew.
Fun Writing Practice
Recall a personal, real experience you had recently and write it down as it actually happened. Try to do this within two or three pages.
Now read your experience through, and come up with a short story around it.
Imagine a purpose or motive or conclusion to the characters or events you described. Create a beginning, middle, and end in your mind. You might want to make some notes.
See what happens. You’re drawing on yourself and your experience, and that’s important. But when you’re telling a story, you’re also drawing on vision, inspiration.
That’s just as important. Make it up – imagine – and know that by using your imagination, you’ll stop being stuck. Your imagination will set you free. You’ll be able to move from the so-called ‘real’ into something more sublime: Fiction.
- Floating on your back in the swimming pool
- Rocking chairs
- The color of dawn
- Hearing a smile in a voice on the telephone
- Moonlight Sonata
- Home made minestrone
- Curling up in front of the fire
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