One of the questions I get asked a lot about writing is ‘Do you ever put real people in your books?’ And my answer is always a very firm no. Never. For more reasons that I can say, unless you have a couple of hours on your hands, but one of them is that what I might think is a true and fair portrait of someone, might be very different from their own view. So I stick to fiction.
On the other hand, I do work really hard to make my stories believable. Which, strangely, is another reason why real life, unaltered and unabridged, doesn’t always work. Because I have a strong feeling that some of the more bizarre aspects of everyday life – well you just couldn’t write ’em.
Take the old story about Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’. Remember the heart shaped stain on the ceiling? Apparently that caused a bit of a rumpus when the book was published – some commentators felt that it stretched the truth a little too far in the pursuit of imagery. Only problem with that, was that Hardy actually got the idea from an account in the newspaper, where a body was found because of… you guessed it… a heart shaped stain on the ceiling below.
Believability is difficult to define, and it’s a wholly personal thing. Take the film ‘What Women Want’. I was perfectly happy to accept that your average advertising executive could be electrocuted by a hairdryer one evening and wake up the next morning with the ability to hear women’s thoughts. Even happier to accept that he might be surprised by them. But the part which jarred a little with me? Everyone seemed to think so coherently! I’m rather hoping that it’s not just me who finds that hard to swallow.
So here’s my point. We’re all willing to suspend our disbelief in lots of different areas, science fiction and supernatural stories wouldn’t be so popular if we weren’t. But despite the fact that truth is often so much more irrational than fiction, we need to be able to make sense of what we read – understand how the wildest of premises might work in real life. And catching hold of how that happens is a bit like holding a gust of wind in your hand. Perhaps that’s where the real magic of the written word begins.
What do you think? And do you have any ‘stranger than fiction’ stories. I’d love you to share them!