Thursday, July 26, 2012

Truth in Composite

Writing requires making choices. Writing fiction depends on those choices being unique enough to satisfy a saturated creative landscape, but at the same time contain enough generalities to unify the theme so that it is capable of communicating with a large, diverse number of readers. It is akin to the paradox, this complex synthesis of choice in that the imaginary must also fuse with the actual, to create the unique. Possibilities present themselves in a progressive stream for consideration; everything claims to be important enough to be included in the novel yet there is only so much space.

When I set out to write a series of stories about a young woman struggling through a network of opportunity that mirrored the landscapes which surrounded people I have observed, I intentionally turned my back on the particular details that were either experienced directly or through information relayed by association. To lift events directly from the lives around me felt like cheating.

The question remains: What should a writer include in their story? Wanting to avoid the specific design calculations that would render a novel some “Frankenstein-esque,” creation -- something shrewdly cobbled together to include as many resonant aspects as possible, so designed to speak to as great a number of readers as is possible would be the mark of failure. Such a strategically marketed approach would surely come at the expense of authentic characterization and an exposition guided by the imagination.

My hunch was that the solution to this dilemma could be found in turning the key to verisimilitude. It is in the specific details pertaining to your characters that will provide the alchemizing agent between what is familiar and what is unique.

How an incident or a person from your present life can ignite a sequence of events for a character is part of the mystery of inspiration, crystallized. Writers of fiction do not strive to be biographers, but instead allow an event or perhaps something as simple as an impression to guide the direction of their narrative. This may only be a brief period of influence or may act as a form of immediate association. Directness of the experience does not appear to factor; the imagination works with what is on hand.

It is not my desire to distract the reader by theorizing on the minds of the rich and famous. Yet their presence in the lives of those who lead more simple lives is inevitable. It must be included because it is true for the character so it is now my responsibility to craft this fascination into the story accordingly. This is the challenge -- weaving in something that goes against the grain of my own reason.

{Photographs by Man Ray}


  1. Hi Meredith. The way through the fictional maze, I've found, is to select those specifics from real or imagined life that, strung together, will allow the reader to infer a grander, more generalized view of their own life experience.

    1. Excellent point, Bob. What I find fascinating is the craft of weaving those elements together. Does this happen by us consciously when we write or is there some assistance from the imagination? Hope to discover more through this blog. Thanks for sharing.