We’ve all heard the phrase ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ and it is one that gives us writerly folk something to think upon.
When plotting a story, we are frequently advised not to rely too heavily on coincidence – the reader must not be cheated; he or she must be led, carefully yet often unwittingly, through a series of events which come together to form a plot. Said plot should, apparently, follow a generally accepted structure of crisis points, resolutions and thematic arcs. What we should not do is make our characters behave in an unbelievable way, stumble through coincidental events or allow something so outlandish to happen that the reader is alienated and throws down the book in disgust.
However... we have all heard stories (have we not?) of real-life events which would break these rules if incorporated into our fictitious plots. Clearly if the writing is of non-fiction then that is excellent news; it probably means that the subject matter we have chosen will make a rollicking read. Also, I am a firm believer that rules are made to be broken, in certain circumstances at least. I can think of many stories where ridiculously unbelievable things happen and, somehow, the writer manages to pull it off. Yet there are undoubtedly situations where using an event, or series of events, which occurred in real life in a fictitious piece just won’t work because the reader would be left saying that just wouldn’t happen. Whilst our response could justifiably be well, dear reader, it did! that just won’t cut it if it does not feel honest to the person you are trying to engage with.
I can recall a fair few training courses and writing workshops where, in group discussion, plot points have been shot down as being too unrealistic only for the writer to declare that it had in fact actually happened. It’s always interesting and it always makes me reflect, particularly as the past year has seen me writing and editing four non-fiction books about incredible, heroic, moving, dastardly and quite unbelievable events, a few of which would have been dismissed as absurd had they been incorporated into a work of fiction. By way of example, meet Henry Brown, a 19th century American slave who escaped to freedom – by post! After thirty three years of living his life in chains in Louisa County, Virginia, Henry claimed to have received a heavenly vision which told him to mail himself to a place where there were no slaves. Probably born of desperation, it is still completely bonkers and a truth which is, I think, stranger than much fiction (although I feel that I should point out that I am currently reading Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams).
If you’d like to meet more of the fascinating folk who have inhabited my year they can be found in the four volumes of the ‘Keeping Up With the...’ series which I have published with Marvin Close. So far we have covered Jones, Williams, Brown and Smith and it has been a roller-coaster ride during which I have met many interesting and noteworthy individuals. I’m planning to set up Facebook pages in the coming months so that anyone can share pictures and stories of their own notable namesakes. I'd love to see old photos alongside family stories of heroes and black sheep. I will also be posting some extra stories on the Facebook pages which are not featured in the books together with some of Marvin's excellent cartoons!
The four volumes are packed with inspirational stories if you are looking for an idea for a piece of writing. Putting them together had my mind racing as I began to imagine how I would tell their stories or include them, disguised, within my own plot. Just make sure you don’t come up with something so crazy no one will believe you!!
Here’s hoping you had a great Christmas and that Santa brought you all of the books you asked for.
Happy New Year,
Each book is £4.50 in paperback and £2.49 on Kindle. Click on an image to take a further look.
I love most types of fiction - crime, mystery, fantasy. Oh, and historical fiction of course and middle-grade books and, well, you get the picture.
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