Thursday, November 5, 2009

You Can't Make This Stuff Up

Believe it or not, I have a real life. And there's some funny stuff that happens. People do interesting things. Weird things. Things I cannot comprehend. The list goes on and on.

One day I went to lunch (there's a shocker) with my husband and his former boss. Now that lady has some stories. And not the "ha ha!" kind. More like the, "You've got to be kidding me" kind.

So I said that.

And she replied, "I'm not kidding. You can't make this stuff up."

So I know you know where I'm going with this. Writer-Elana reared her ugly beautiful head and pondered that statement.

And she realized: Good fiction has roots in real life.

Sure, I write mostly speculative fiction, which includes fantastical elements and cool powers. But ultimately, I try to make my characters real. Experience real life in their own way, their own world. And I found that including aspects of people I know, stories I've heard, etc. is a great way to do that.

Because you can't make this stuff up.

What do you think? Do you include real life situations in your fiction writing? Have you noticed it being more authentic when you do?

23 comments:

Corey Schwartz said...

Truth is definitely stranger than fiction! Just have to look at politics for evidence of that.

Melanie Avila said...

The premise for my current wip is based on a news article I saw last year. I've had a lot of "wow, that sounds like a powerful story"-type comments, and I feel like I can't take credit because some demented man is what prompted it.

Carolyn V. said...

I think all stories have to come from some kind of connection from the writer. Especially the emotions. =)

Michelle McLean said...

A lot of my fiction is based on real life stuff. I've had a few "you're kidding" moments in my life that are fun to weave into my books. Truth is definitely stranger than fiction :D

Mandy said...

I always draw on people, places, things I know when writing urban fantasy. Drawing from real-life adds believability to the story and real life really is stranger than fiction!

Scott said...

Yes.

I'm going to visit a good friend of mine this weekend, and we were emailing back and forth yesterday. I told her a brief snippet of a story. She responded: we have so many stories to share. My response: Oh, the stories I have . . . and have been incorporating in my writing! Only I truly know where the fact ends and the fiction begins!!!

I think your post ties in with Davin's post over at The Literary Lab. I also don't think we can 'not' incorporate real life into our stories, even if that incorporation is often done on a subconscious level.

Lastly, I always try to make my characters as real as possible. As a reader, I want to be able to identify with the characters I'm reading about. The more real the characters are, the more real their problems, conflicts, and solutions, than the more I will identify with those characters.

S

Bethany Wiggins said...

Nothing is stranger than unexplainable fact. I just heard a story about ghosts of Roman soldiers seen marching in the basement of an ancient building in York. Only, they looked like they were marching on their knees. When the owners tore the floor up, they foung an ancient road fifteen inches beneath it. That's what the Roman ghosts marched on.

Anna Flaa said...

I love this post, because it is so true. We all respond to characters in stories if they relate to us, whether the story is taking place in a house down the block or in a galaxy far, far away. I think that human writers can't help but include real life into the stories they tell because we connect so much to our own experience and the experience of others.

Just sit down with a group of friends some time and listen to the conversation. No doubt, it will eventually turn into a competition to see who can tell the best story. That is something I love doing as a writer...but I just have to take mental notes, since taking a notepad with me might be a bit creepy...

/rant

Solvang Sherrie said...

Absolutely!

I keep a notebook with me at all times to write down things my kids say and do because they are so much funnier than I'll ever be. I even write observations about people and places that catch my attention. I'm just hoping nobody sues me for cribbing from their lives :)

Donna Gambale said...

Any good novel has emotional realism, even if it's high fantasy and resembles nothing from this world. That type of realism has to be pulled from the basic human experience.

And to be less philosophical, I have a few scenes in my WIP loosely based on real life instances. Sometimes there's danger in holding too closely to real life events, though. If you get too caught up in 'what really happened' then you risk not doing right by the story.

Jen Chandler said...

I have so many bizarre stories! I like to add a dash of them into my work (helps I write fantasy :)

I really enjoy discovering that a favorite story has it's roots in something that happened in the author's life. It makes it more "real" to me.

Jen

L.T. Elliot said...

I do think you have to have some basis in reality (and I'm a fantasy writer so what does that really say about me?) because it helps us tie into the feeling--the suspension of disbelief. When I'm pulled into a book, it's because I have become to thoroughly engaged that I forget that I'm reading. I guess that means they found a way to make it real for me.

Jenn Wilks said...

All right, so I heard about this lady who can't walk forward anymore because of a flu shot. And of course, it sounds really weird. But it turns out to be one of those "you can't make this stuff up" kind of things - it really is true. She had a rare neurological reaction to the shot. I've heard of all kinds of crazy things. There's a lady who had quadruplets without any fertility drugs - 2 sets of identical twins in one pregnancy. If I read that in a fiction novel, I'd say "No way! That could never happen." But I heard it on the news, so there you go. :o)

Now that I've rambled, I'll tell you my real answer to your question. Yes, I think you should make your story as true to real life as you can within the parameters of the story. Obviously, if there's magic or you're on a planet with three moons, those elements will be different. But people want to be able to believe your story could really happen, even if they know it didn't really happen.

Lisa and Laura said...

We're firm believers in the "you can't make this stuff up" rule of writing. The funniest, most random things usually have some kind of basis in reality.

Frankie Diane Mallis said...

Yes truth is stranger than fiction! I don't think I ever consciously put something in thats real, but when I look back I can totally see that a lot of the things my MC feels are things I have felt though in another situation. And a few real life events make their way in.

Cool post!

WindyA said...

Most definitely!

I think it's what makes characters relatable, when something happens and a reader can say, OMG- That totally happened to me too! ... as bizarre as situations are, it's nice to not feel so alone.

ali said...

I'm laughing my butt off. No, sometimes life truly IS stranger than fiction.

And I have no idea what I do. I'm crazy, nuts, stupefied. I just write stuff that pops into my head and since I'm all those nutso things, my writing is too. So there.

Kat Harris said...

I think, whether writers realize it or not, their stories have a tendency to reflect some aspect of their life, even if it's simply on a metaphorical basis.

Amy Tate said...

Funny, my aunt was telling me the same thing this week. I wrote a story that was accepted for Chicken Soup for the Soul NASCAR book coming out in February. (Got a contract with a letter that said it still may get cut? That's why I'm not jumping up and down yet) It was the easiest thing I've ever written, because it's about my family. I keep forgetting that what is normal everyday life for me, isn't necessarily for someone else. Great post!

Cheree said...

All good stories have to have some kind of resemblance to realism. I often get my characters from observing people (and I'm a waitress, you will never guess how utterly bizarre people are until you have to serve them).

Aaron Polson said...

Writing Spec Fic as well (usually the darker stuff), I'm a big fan of stealing from real life. All the speculation in the world won't make up for flat, boring characters--and the best characters come from the real world.

Jessica said...

Oh yeah! Our books are our worlds and we can make whatever happen that we want, just got to get the reader to believe it's possible.

quixotic said...

Oh yes! Real life situations make for some great storytelling.

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