Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Making It Up, Making It Real

by Elizabeth

Okay, here's the deal. In a key plot point in my WIP, the main characters take a weekend trip and it's a turning point for them both. It's not really a vacation, but rather a particular kind of trip, with elements that spur the storyline.

The thing is, it's not a trip I've taken myself. In other words, I mostly made it up. And yet. Rooting around online today (we're going to call it "research" despite the fact that this scene was written months ago and is on its fourth or fifth draft), I found precisely the kind of trip my characters take, available close by. Next month. Should I go?

On one hand, that's kind of the job of the novelist, making stuff up. I read The Known World by Edward P. Jones about seven or eight years ago and was absolutely blown away by the fact that the guy invented his entire slave saga, right down to the very authentic-seeming inventory kept by the plantation owner. On the other hand, Amy Tan admitted that she tried to convince her accountant husband that she should be able to write off Chinese restaurant meals as research, since her characters were eating in such locales. (And she had cravings, the fact of which apparently made no difference to his negative response.) So which?

I guess I'd say both. Yes, as writers, it's our job to make stuff up. But it's also imperative that when we do, we get it right. I was nineteen when I read One Hundred Years of Solitude by the late great Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and all these years later I still remember being floored by the fact that he had me believing in the world he created, as though it were sociological fact, even as his characters sailed through the air on flying carpets. Aimee Bender, too, had me convinced that her character could indeed taste emotion in food, and that the girl's brother could do something more amazing yet in The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake.
That said, as I read Margaret Dilloway's How to Be an American Housewife a few days ago, I appreciated the fact that her own life had informed the story, and the personal family history she provided in the author's notes lent credibility to an already believable story.

The particular events of the trip my characters take were touted on a website I found this morning. Not just close, but precisely. I'd written that a class unexpectedly had a specific theme, and the identical words were used to describe a class offering on a weekend retreat here in Texas. Less than two hours from home. Next month. And affordable.

Is it possible the universe is trying to tell me something?

1 comment:

  1. You had me at weekend trip. Perhaps I can call it research and come with you?? I'm more than curious. You'll have to email me the details.


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