This past semester, I took a fiction workshop class – some stories were all right, some pretty good, others… god-awful. (My first draft was pretty terrible, but I was able to revamp it to such a level that turned my great in the class from a C directly to an A. Huzzah!)
In any case, there were two girls in my class who tried to write true stories. Both were pretty bad. So, my professor gave them some valuable advice: If you’re going to write about true events for a fiction class, pull yourself away from the story. Make it third person point of view if you have to.
So, I decided to try this out. In my creative writing seminar, we studied Philip Roth’s American Pastoral. The main focus was on the structure of the book, but I was more interested in the narrator’s fascination with “the Swede.”
Swede Levov – isn’t that a delightfully attractive name? And I was completely captivated by the idea of “Who was the Swede?” And so I thought, “Well, hey. I know someone sort of like that.” Now, I didn’t go into depth, trying to write a three-act novel and making up the story of my own version of Swede. But, my mind immediately fell back to someone I know. Roth used the real first name and nickname of an existing person (Seymour “Swede” – He has a wikipedia article and everything). I, out of embarrassment, changed my friend’s name to Kazuya.
At first, I had such a hard time writing the story, trying to recall events that happened, things this friend and I had actually done and said, while trying to put a fictional spin on it. But, I found it became so much easier when I released myself from the main character and when I broke Kazu from the mold of my friend. Both characters were then able to transform into different people with their own personalities. It was beautiful!
The moment I realized my characters were blossoming on their own, I had a reaction not unlike this:
And wouldn’t you know? After spending a week agonizing over how I should end the story, it ended on its own. I sat there staring at the screen, thinking, “Huh. Well, that was unexpected.” But it fits.
Point is, don’t get caught up in the details of true events. Knowing exactly what happened, some writers tend to gloss things over, and the story will seem rushed and vague. However, when you take most of yourself out of the equation, you’ll be surprised at what you can create.