Poetics Serendipity: Fiction Lies

13 Nov

8:30 a.m. — Atlanta

listening to The Mamas and The Papas singing Dancing Bear — a lesser known, beautiful song


Hello, all. When talking with writers, I have noticed a squeamishness about altering facts, if the story concerns them in any way.  When you recount a story to someone, do you always tell the whole truth and nothing but? How about if the story reflects you in a less than rosy light. Do you shade the details a touch? Do you think that because an autobiography is written by the person it’s about that the writer tells the truth through the entire volume? Uh huh.

When you use real events as a basis for your writing, remember: Fiction lies. Here are some strategies to help you tinker with an old and/or true story so as to make it your own new piece of fiction. While simple, even obvious, when you are rearranging your own history, or that of someone you know, you might not think about all you can do to make the event a piece of fiction rather than a piece of real life.

1.    Change the names of your characters to enhance the identities of characters and/or to protect the identities of human beings. Names need to fit.
2.    Change the setting to a room or locale more appropriate for the events. The real story happened in a grocery store. In your plot, a bar makes more sense. Okay, make it a bar.
3.    Change the point of view.  Narrate the piece from the third-person. Or tell the events in the first person from the point of view of someone else on the scene. The real event was yours. That doesn’t mean someone else can’t tell the story. After all, you aren’t in your novel, right?
4.    Invent details of setting or appearance of characters that will vivify the writing.  Add the names of products and streets, for instance. Details put a reader in the story, but don’t use details for their own sake. If a car races by, in a scene, what do you want the reader’s impression to be? That it is green, that it is a Mustang, that it is a green Mustang, or that it is a car?
5.    Invent events that credibly develop from the situation. This is where the Then What? exercise is helpful.
6.    Invent believable dialogue for your characters. Whether there was dialogue originally is irrelevant. If you need a conversation to move the story or provide exposition, then write dialogue.
7.    Leave out what does not contribute to the effect of the piece. Not everything that occurred in the real story has to be in the new story.

To amuse you and give you some more to chew on, I have Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses, by Mark Twain. You do not need to read the critique itself, unless you are curious, but the 18 rules that precede it are excellent. How can you resist:

Cooper’s art has some defects. In one place in “Deerslayer,” and in the restricted space of two-thirds of a page, Cooper has scored 114 offenses against literary art out of a possible 115. It breaks the record.

There are nineteen rules governing literary art in the domain of romantic fiction — some say twenty-two. In “Deerslayer,” Cooper violated eighteen of them.

Rule 3. They require that the personages in a tale shall be alive, except in the case of corpses, and that always the reader shall be able to tell the corpses from the others.

I love Rule 3 and the last seven.

See you tomorrow for the roundup; Tuesday for our next narrative prompt; and Thursday for more narrative natter.

Happy writing, everyone.


Posted by on 13/11/2014 in writing


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2 responses to “Poetics Serendipity: Fiction Lies

  1. Hannah Gosselin

    13/11/2014 at 1:02 pm

    Hello and oooh…the song is a gem, Margo. I love the story it tells. 🙂

    Your list: Perfect strategies for building a lie or a fiction story or both! 😉

    Thank you!

    • margo roby

      15/11/2014 at 9:46 am

      Hello yourself. I like oooh :-D.

      Always my pleasure, Hannah!


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