Tag Archives: narration

Poetics Serendipity: Fiction Lies

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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Poem Tryouts: Narrative Consciousness

7:41 a.m. — Atlanta

listening to The Beatles singing Get Back

Hello, all. Here we go with this week’s narrative exercise. As prose writers you need to be aware of the effect of the narrator, point of view, and distance, on the story. Keeping a continuity of narrative voice for the length of a novel is not an easy thing and you will need to train your ear.

“It is through action that characters most successfully and fully emerge, and seldom mere description.”[Roorbach, Writing Life Stories p74]

You need to look back for a character you have created or one from real life. Or use a photograph from a magazine. Ahead of the exercise:

Give the character a gender. [I am going to refer to the character as ‘he’ rather than the wretched dual pronoun thing.]
Name the character.
What does this character want… more than anything else… NOW?
Think: Is it the kind of matter that can sustain a story?
Explain the want.
Who is preventing the character from getting what he wants?
What does this character think about himself?

Keep these in mind as you follow the steps of the exercise.

1. Don’t have the character move. Describe him in prose. Just the person; no background. Describe especially the things people remember about him. Third person point of view.

2. Have this character move, but stay close; continue to focus tightly on him. Think of yourself as a movie camera in a close-up. Third person point of view.

3. Have your character approach and say something to someone else. Don’t get inside the second character. Describe the second character through your first character’s eyes. This can be third, or first person. Try both points of view and note how they differ.

4. Again, think of yourself as a movie camera. Continue with the interaction between these two characters, but report it from a distance, or through some kind of partial obstruction (fog, fence, screen door mesh, wind, snowstorm, passing traffic)  Third person point of view. BUT do let the reader be aware of the partial obstruction or distance that separates you from the characters.

5. Describe something your main character can’t possibly be aware of–but that is in some way related to him. It can be something physical about himself, or something that’s going on right now far away or nearby out of his sight. Third person POV.

6. Have your two characters go separate ways. Send away your starting–main–character first. Follow him for a while noting what he does.  Third person POV.

7. Come back to the second character. Reveal to us that your second character has been lying to your main character or concealing something the whole time. This may have been done for positive or negative reasons. Tell us how and why and since when this deception has been going on.  Third person POV.

8. End by showing us the first character again, probably unaware of the deception. This can be third, or first person POV.

Note that the exercise, while focusing on character, includes something the main character wants and a possible conflict, or two. Both of these are necessary in fiction to propel the plot.

Poets: Pick one of these steps and adapt it for a poem. If you choose a step that can be told in either first, or third, person point of view, try both. If you find the differences interesting, give us both versions and tell us what you note.

I shall see you Thursday for links; Friday for this week’s prompt roundup; and next Tuesday for a narrative prompt that focuses on eating.

Happy writing, everyone.

P.S. The Roorbach book is worth having if you write narrative.


Posted by on 12/11/2013 in exercises, writing


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