Education By Fiction

I’ve got a degree in Creative Lying and Strategic Truth-Stretching from the University of Fiction. 

Okay, not really, but I do love writing fiction because making stuff up is so much fun!  There are still boundaries I have to respect in order to make a story feel real and believable.

For instance, when I write contemporary mysteries/suspense and women’s fiction, I have to obey the laws of the world.  For example, if the story involves a crime (all right, in mysteries, someone always ends up dead), police procedure must be followed and the motive must make sense.  The environment should match reality:  I wouldn’t write about snow in Phoenix in June (or ever, really) or incorrectly reference an actual landmark (but I can–and did–make up a fictional suburb of Phoenix).  I also have to follow the expected behavior of people.  If a character behaves unexpectedly, I have to present enough background to the reader so that they know it’s a reasonable behavior (but not so much that they flip through several pages to get back to the good stuff).

by Google Images

If I wrote science fiction or fantasy, I’d have other rules to follow—like world-building so the reader can picture the environment in which the story takes place.  I’d have to be able to concisely describe the surroundings or their world in a way that readers wouldn’t be confused.  Then, all of the scenes in that book would have to stay within the framework established.

by Google Images

If I wrote romances, I’d have to be able to craft a stormy, tension-building relationship and then a steamy scene where the angst bubbles over into passion.  I have the foresight to know that writing romance is not for me.  My climactic love scene would probably involve the man poking the woman’s eye with his nose, or the woman breaking out into an uncontrollable nervous giggle as the man caresses her collar bone after unbuttoning her shirt.  (I don’t read romances very often because I end up disappointed when I come back to reality.  It’s disturbing when I find I’ve got a crush on a fictional character–I mean, the rogues and rakes in novels never…I repeat, NEVER leave their smelly socks on the floor, burp at the dinner table, leave the toilet paper roll empty, well, you get the idea.)

The beauty of fiction is that I can draw from my own interactions, but make my characters handle them better – or worse – depending on what the story calls for.   But using variations of personal experiences on their own would make for a flat story (because I can tell you, most of my life has been quite boring as I’ve lived it…it could only be worse reading about it after the fact.)

To give my stories authenticity and to make them more interesting, I’ve had to do some research.  For various stories/novels-in-process that I have written this year, I have researched Native American religious practices and beliefs about death; Bible scriptures; shady neighborhoods of Scottsdale, as well as the ritzier areas, bus routes and distances between the two; Alzheimer’s stages and symptoms (beyond what I knew from my experience); emotions and behaviors tied to Anorexia;  and scorpions.
Bark Scorpion by Google Images

So, in my quest to write made up stories with enough reality to make them plausible, I’ve had to learn new things too.  A win-win situation, don’t you think?

Here are a few quotes about fiction that sum up my thoughts:

Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so slightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. Often the attachment is scarcely perceptible.Virginia Woolf

Imagination and fiction make up more than three quarters of our real life.–Simone Weil

Good fiction is made of that which is real, and reality is difficult to come by.–Ralph Ellison

I think I write fiction for the opportunity to get beyond the limits of my own life.–Wally Lamb

Fiction gives us a second chance that life denies us.–Paul Theroux

Fiction is about intimacy with characters, events, places.-Robert Morgan

What have you learned by writing fiction (or even poetry or non-fiction)? 


8 thoughts on “Education By Fiction

  1. Brown Eyed Mystic December 20, 2010 / 10:08 PM

    Yay for this awesome post Janna! (not that not other posts of yours are awesome) (but I am floored by this sweetness)

    I totally agree — it IS a win-win because I crave to learn new things and it happens best while researching for writing. I do it more so for non-fiction, but it’s definitely present in all sorts of writing if you’re doing your home-work well. 🙂

    Haha and still, I’d love to see you write a romance (comedy) fiction 😉


    • jannatwrites December 20, 2010 / 10:41 PM

      Thanks, BrownEyed – I’m always happy when I write something that is comment-worthy 🙂

      I imagine you would do a fair amount of research in non-fiction – more so than fiction because you can’t just make it up as you go. If I did write a romance, it would probably be shelved in the horror section (if anyone was brave enough to agent and publish it). Although, I do think I could channel all of my insecurities in life into a very awkward love scene 😉

      • Tim Weaver December 21, 2010 / 12:32 PM

        Then cut to the chase and write a Romance-Horror. Or is that being redundant?

        What have I learned writing fiction? That I can write well enough if I have a story idea. I have a friend who has lots of ideas but can’t write his way out of a wet paper bag. Together, we might make up a whole author. 🙂

        One thing I’ve learned is that some of the things I can come up with are WAY darker than I really feel comfortable putting to paper…will people think *I* am that way? I am already an odd-enough duck for some folks…I don’t need to enhance that image.

        Or maybe I should “embrace the suck”, as my military friends say, and just go with it, knowing that it is what it is and ain’t nothing I can do to change it.

        Decisions, decisions.

        • jannatwrites December 21, 2010 / 7:54 PM

          I’ve seen authors pair up to write novels – you and your friend could do that, you know. If you write a dark story, you do run the risk of people thinking that’s how you are. But then you have to decide whether or not that matters. Keep ’em guessing 😉

  2. nrhatch December 20, 2010 / 10:08 PM

    Loved this post, Janna . . . your very first line tickled my fancy.

    • jannatwrites December 20, 2010 / 10:44 PM

      I’m glad you liked it, Nancy – it was a fun one to do!

  3. M. Howalt December 21, 2010 / 4:02 AM

    Great post! Thank you for sharing.

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