Wednesday, October 19, 2011
......THE TRUTH ABOUT FICTION
"A play is fiction - and fiction is fact distilled into truth."- Edward Albee -
My first book, and still my favorite baby, Surfing Vietnam, started out as one first-person, autobiographical short story. It grew into three autobiographical first-person short stories. I got the inspiration from seeing those stories on paper to write a book of short stories, all linked by time and place and protagonist. But in order to do that, I had to fudge some of the content that was straight autobiography; I compressed time, added new characters and changed sequences. Still true stories, but enriched with minor bits of plausibly fictional content...
To make the book long enough, I realized I had to add some stories that happened, not to me, but to my contemporaries. After doing that, I felt I had the license to (what the hell !) go ahead and make up a few stories that could have happened or even should have happened to my protagonist. Pure fiction...
The first draft was done. In reading it I realized how constraining it was to have written it in the first person. The protagonist was really no longer me. He had a life of his own. Writing the book as a series of short stories gave the book a choppy and disjointed feel. So I rewrote the book in the third person, letting my protagonist breath his own air and live his own life. I linked the stories to make one long story with chapters in chronological order. I found the theme in this second draft and tweaked the stories, and the ending to serve that theme. There was a theme, I just didn't know it until I read the second draft.
So, is this book truth or mere "fiction". Which parts are autobiography and which are fantasy? I do not know how to answer that question, except to quote myself (and I am sure I am paraphrasing someone else unwittingly) "To write great fiction, you must always tell the truth."
Maybe I read that Albee quote above before I saw it on my Facebook wall this morning, posted by John Gerry promoting one of his plays.