Friday, April 23, 2010

Writing Fiction from Life

In an SSU extended education class by Daniel Coshnear called Fiction From Life, a primary question was: Why write fiction?

Coshnear illuminated the distinguishing characteristics of fiction as follows:
  1. Fictional stories create distance from the personal that nonfiction stories can't.
  2. Though "untrue", fiction can reflect a broader truth.
  3. Fiction frees the writer from telling what 'really' happened, and protects the innocence of others (including oneself). 
  4. Fiction offers more creative license. You can embellish a story where memory fails. You can create your fantasy dialogue or change endings you wish existed.
  5. You have access to fictional characters & the imagination that you often can't get with real people or places.
    When drawing from life experience to write fiction, however, Coshnear warned that the translation can be problematic. "It's harder to start rooted in your own experience and fictionalize it," he said. "Instead, start with fiction and place elements of real life into it."

    "Real life" doesn't have to be your own. You can draw from a conversation overheard on the bus, media commentary, a dream, historical research. In his book, Turning Life into Fiction, Robin Hemley writes, "Writing from real life is a constant dialogue between one's memory and one's imagination."

    In this class I began “Spring” -- a short story that explores the grief of a woman who loses her sister (and sister's kids) to suicide/homicide. Infusing deeper truths from life (loss, grief, family relationships, healing) with imagination, I found freedom in allowing the fictional characters to speak of their own accord. 

    But the writing process was grueling. I was often lost with regard to character development, story structure or theme. Feeling the effort was futile, I almost quit. Instead, I kept at it. Persistence paid off with my first draft of a fictional story since winning an honorable mention in 7th grade. (Over time I've come to recognize that fear of "not knowing how to write" without surrendering to its paralyzing effect.)

    Coshnear acknowledged that I had taken on “dramatic and ambitious material.” But it was my classmates’ written comments and verbal responses that encouraged me most: “The minimal and stark writing is so powerful and sad. It conveys an incredible amount of tragedy through the smallest details.” 

    Though the story still needs much work, I experienced success due to the emotions it evoked. Witnessing that impact of my words on readers motivated me to take more risks in my writing, and to further explore the benefits of fiction.

    Dear reader,
    Have you written any fiction? What themes or deeper truths would you like to to access or express without telling the whole truth?

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