Monday, December 7, 2015

How Much Fact to Put into Fiction by Roseanne Dowell

I know well-meaning friends often say - “You ought to write this down, it would make a great story.”   Well, actually, no it wouldn’t. I’m sure you’ve all heard the saying “fact is stranger than fiction” - well it is. If you’re writing nonfiction, fine go ahead and use the story about Uncle Joe getting stuck on the roof.  It was a comical incident and will make a great creative nonfiction story. However, for fiction the idea won’t make for a great story without some changes.   For the most part, it’ll come off as false. Readers just won’t believe it. Why?  Think about it.  Other than Science Fiction - which still has to be written as believable- when you read a story or novel, one of your first thoughts is –  can this  happen. It might be farfetched but it can happen.  Besides you, the author will be telling the story.  And we want to show our stories. 

Here’s our incident. Uncle Joe got stuck on the roof while hanging Christmas lights.   He put a ladder on the peak of the garage and when he went to get off the other peak he reached his foot out, the ladder slipped away.  He moved toward it and inched his way off the roof, reached his foot out and tried to snag the ladder. Again it slipped away. One more time and it slipped out of reach. By this time he was hanging by his elbows. . No one was in the house. It was cold and the roof was covered with snow. He looked around to see if a neighbor might have come out. Nothing – his arms were getting tired and he didn’t know what to do.  The only thing left was to jump.  He knew if he landed on his feet, they’d slip out from under him and he’d slide off the roof like a bullet.  He took a deep breath and let go. Thankfully he landed and didn’t slide.

If I were writing it for creative nonfiction, I’d embellish it, make it humorous. 

But, how do we create a story from this idea?  It almost sounds like an incident from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation or Grisham’s Skipping Christmas? How did they do it?  Some people need to plot out the idea on paper, which is fine. I wish I could do that.  But, I’m one of those writers that just start writing.  Oh I’ll jot down some ideas and know where I want to go, but in the beginning I usually have no idea how to get there.  I know the beginning and the end. What happens in the middle is as much a surprise for me as it is for the reader. And that works for me.  Whatever works for you is fine.

Okay, we have the idea.   A man is stuck on a roof.  He doesn’t have to be putting up Christmas lights. He could be up there for a variety of reasons.  Maybe they had a leak and it was raining cats and dogs.

One of the first things, even for me, is to create the plot.  I start, of course, with my characters name, age and appearance. Okay let’s call our guy, Charlie. He’s middle-aged, slightly balding, but tall and muscular. Next I ask why Charlie was on the roof.

Once I have my characters, I develop my idea.  First question:  What genre’ am I writing?  This is where we start asking the questions, what happened, how did it happen, etc.  If I’m writing mystery I have to decide is it a murder mystery?  Who gets killed, where and why?

Hmm - maybe someone moved the ladder. And maybe Charlie makes it down but he knows someone is trying to kill him.

 If Charlie is the intended victim we’ll need a potential killer.  

Once we know the where and why, we need to know if the murder is going to happen in the book, or behind the scenes.  In other words has the murder been committed when we come on the scene or are we going to show our readers the murder.   In this case it’s an attempted murder because Charlie isn’t dead.

Then we need to know how our main character is going to solve the crime.  We need some clues, usually not ones the reader will pick up on right away, but clues that at the end of the story they’ll hit their foreheads and say “Oh I should have known.”

Do you see how we took a real life incident and changed it into something totally different? Sure we could have written humor like National Lampoon, but why stop there.  Explore different avenues. You could take the same incident and change it into a romance or fantasy. Maybe even Science Fiction.  I don’t write that either so I’m not going try to explain that. But who knows maybe while Charlie is repairing the roof, men from mars kidnap him.   Let your imagination run wild. 

Blurb and Excerpt for Entangled Minds
Visions of someone’s life disturb Rebecca Brennan’s dreams. The dreams become dangerous and she’s determined to find who shares her mind. Her search leads her to a
small town and puts her life in danger too.

The next morning Rebecca, once again, sat in Bernard Clark’s office. Something about the heavy-set, middle-aged man with salt and pepper hair and scruffy beard reminded her of her grandfather. As usual, he listened to her story with a serious expression.
Was this really helping? How many hours had she spent sitting across from the mammoth mahogany desk, staring at the book-lined shelves behind him? And so far, she didn’t know anything more than before. Once more, that’s it. If nothing changed today, she’d quit coming. Maybe he was a quack, like her brother said. Rebecca took a breath and relaxed in the comfortable atmosphere, inhaled the smell of new leather that clung to the chair, and leaned back. Okay, maybe she did have a deep extra sensory perception connection with someone like Bernard said. The question was with whom. 
“I think you need to find this person,” Dr. Clark suggested. “It’s possible the physic mind is reaching out to you for help.”
"How?" That’s why she was here. If he didn’t help her figure it out, that was it. No more visits. Besides, it cost money, and who could afford it? If Allison hadn’t agreed to pay half, well that was another story. Dr. Bernard’s voice brought her back.
“Start with the dreams,” he suggested. “Tell me about them again.”
“I see scenes with emergency vehicles. Last night someone got shot," she told him for what seemed like the hundredth time. "I wonder if he has something to do with law enforcement or other emergency operations. I'd recognize the town if I ever saw it in person. It’s so vivid in my mind."
"Would you consider hypnotism?" Bernard fingered his beard. Intense blue eyes stared into hers. "Maybe your sub conscious mind will reveal the place, or person, or something to help you find it."
Leary about being hypnotized, but desperate to find who shared her mind, Rebecca agreed.
Under her hypnotic trance, she revealed the name of a shoe factory. A place called Booth’s Boots, and she repeated the name, Morris, over and over.

"It’s not much to go on," Rebecca told Allison later,” but it’s more than I knew before. Maybe Morris is my mind connection."
Encouraged by the information, she spent the better part of the day doing research. Using the Internet, Rebecca keyed in Booth’s Boots. Instantly, several websites popped up.
“Okay, let’s check out”
A website, showing various types of boots from hunting to work boots, popped up.
“This is great. Let’s see what this says.” She clicked on News and Events. “No help there. Okay, let’s try Outlet Stores.” She almost jumped out of her chair. “There it is!” A factory, located in Morrisville, Ohio.
“Morrisville, could that explain the name Morris?” A prickly sensation went up her spine. She was getting close; she could feel it.
“Okay, let’s try this.” Rebecca didn’t care she was talking to herself. Besides, it wasn’t the first time. Keying Morrisville into the search engine, she held her breath, more determined than ever to find the town. If it took all day, then so be it.  A site popped up with several suggestions. “Okay, let’s see what this one is about.” homepage popped up, and further down the page, it showed–Pictures taken around Morrisville.
She held her breath and clicked on one. The first picture that came up was a log cabin. No help there. “Okay, how about this one? The Square. ” It looked familiar. Shivers ran up her spine. “Okay, how about Hotel Darby. Yes! I’ve seen this place.” One more. She drew in her breath and clicked on Victorian.
“Oh my God, that’s it! That’s the house.” She almost jumped out of her seat. The Queen Anne house in her dreams showed on the screen big as life.  Where is this place?  Clicking back to the homepage, she found it on the map. “Not far from Wattsburg; only a three hour drive from here. I have to go there.”
"Allie." Rebecca phoned her friend. "I found it, I searched the net, and I found it. Even pictures of the town. I recognized all the buildings right down to the house."
"Calm down…"
"I have to go there. It’s only a three hour drive." Not waiting for Allison’s response, Rebecca continued. "I have to find out who I’m connected with."
"What are you going to do?" Allison asked. “Walk into the little town and say hey, someone here is connected to my mind."
Rebecca laughed at her friend’s wit. “I have a plan. First I’ll go to the newspaper office and check for stories about someone being shot on Friday. Then I’ll try to find out where he is. I’m sure he’s alive.” Her intuition told her danger still lingered, but she couldn’t explain that to her friend.
"Maybe it’s a she," Allison said. "What makes you say he?"
"I don’t know." Rebecca paced the living room. "It’s just a feeling I have. It doesn’t matter; whoever it is, I have to go." Okay, it was a crazy scheme, but feelings like this couldn’t be ignored. “There’s no turning back now, Al, I have to find him.”
“Would you like me to go with you?”
 "I have to do this myself.”
“I don’t like this, Beck. You shouldn’t be doing this alone. What if it’s dangerous? I mean you see cop cars and stuff. What if he’s a criminal?”
Rebecca shivered. God, what if he was a criminal? No, something told her that wasn’t the case. Call it a gut feeling or intuition, whatever it was, Rebecca would bet her life he wasn’t a criminal.
“I’m sorry, Al. Thanks for the offer, but no. I have to do this on my own. I’ll be fine. Really.”

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