Friday, 12 November 2010

Constraints of Fiction vs Freedom of Reality

What's coming up for Geraldine? SCENE OF THE CRIME!

On the spur of the moment we once went to visit a public gardens that turned out to be closed. Having travelled so far, we decided to drive on to the nearest town. As we drew level with a sign welcoming us to Milton Keynes, my mobile rang. My daughter was calling because she was bored waiting for a train in... Milton Keynes. I can’t recall the purpose of her visit, but like ours it was an unprecedented trip to Milton Keynes and neither of us had known of the other’s visit beforehand. It was fluke that we chanced to be there at the same time, and discovered we were there together before either of us left.
I could tell you a few more coincidences that have happened to me - although one is so strange that I wouldn’t relate it here for fear of being dismissed as an advocate of impossible supernatural events. It really was that unlikely.
I’m not alone in this. Most people can recall at least one astonishing coincidence they have experienced. How often do we introduce anecdotes with the words, ‘You’ll never believe what happened!’ But of course we do believe the story that follows, because it’s true.
So how is it that real life can throw up such coincidences with impunity when my editor warned me early on to avoid coincidences in my writing because ‘Readers don’t like them’?
When writing my crime thrillers I try to make them believable, researching small details to create a convincing illusion so my readers ‘buy into’ the world of my book. I’m pleased to come across epithets like ‘plausible’ and ‘authentic’ when reviewers comment on my fictional forensic science. (It should be authentic. My advisers range from an experience medical practitioner to a professor of forensic medicine, and even the human remains department of the Natural History Museum!) And I spend time working out how my detective can come across an essential piece of evidence without any unlikely coincidences which my readers might find unbelievable.
So it annoys me intensely that real life can be completely absurd and ridiculously far-fetched when we authors can’t take similar liberties. It’s just not fair!

NEWSFLASH: See it here first
(publication May 2011)\leighrussell


Effie said...

I fully understand this predicament. I could use all sorts of anecdotes in my writing but don't for this very reason.
It also means that something that is 'too real' can't be used. A reader doesn't want to know correct police procedure, the ins and outs, nitty-gritty because you would have a very boring novel if it was all included. It has to be fast-paced, full of action and something the reader can relate to, or at least be convinced by.
It frustrates me intensely when I read crime fiction that isn't realistic or plausible but I have inside knowledge.
It's a fine balance, I think, between what actually happens and what is good entertainment.
And for whatever reason, somethings do not translate onto the page/screen.
Good luck with your books - keep writing!

Jessica McCann said...

You are so right, Leigh. Nice post. It reminds me of a favorite quote from Tom Clancy: "The difference between fiction and reality -- fiction has to make sense."

Jessica McCann
Author of All Different Kinds of Free

Leigh Russell said...

Hi Effie - yes, I think that's where the 'craft' of writing comes in. So much is down to judgement. Will my readers believe this? Is my writing too realistic to be exciting or too action packed to be believable? I've been really relieved by the response of the many police officers who read my books. Everyone is so kind - I'm sure I must make a few gaffes about police procedure along the way but no one has complained yet.

Leigh Russell said...

Hi Jessica, yes, that sums it up. I think that's part of the appeal of fiction - it presents us with a world that makes sense where, as Oscar Wilde said, 'The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means.' Wouldn't it be great if real life was like that? (Assuming you're 'good', that is).

Pat said...

Great cover!
Some brainy person - possibly my ex - explained why in fact there were no coincidences but sadly I can't enlarge on the thesis as it didn't really sink in at the time.
I must pay more attention:)

Leigh Russell said...

Glad you like the cover, Pat. Is it a coincidence that you read this post after someone explained to you why there are no coincidences... Of course, it would be odd if there weren't any coincidences, but I sometimes think there are more than mere random chance would throw up - but I have no good reason for thinking that.

Leigh Russell said...

In fact, I'm not sure that I have good reasons for a lot of the thoughts that wander around between my ears...

Rick said...

Don't tell that to Homer (author of the Odyssey, not Homer Simpson!), or you'd hurt his feelings!

Missed your blog. I've been tied up with a lot the last few months. Nice to be able to breathe again and visit friends.

Leigh Russell said...

Hi Rick - good to hear from you again. Isn't it faintly shocking that we all automatically think of Homer as Homer Simpson... !