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Keeping it real enough…

by Richard Sutton on March 18, 2017

Saturday, March 18, 2017 9:41 AM

I have to smile when I hear fiction described as “made up stuff”. I realize some readers feel that their time is too valuable to indulge in someone’s “what if” stories. For them, there are libraries full to bursting with all kinds of non-fiction to learn from and absorb. I read quite a bit of non-fiction myself, but I write fiction. I write fiction because I can express reality in ways that can be as real if not “realer” than the facts on the ground. That may seem surprising to many, but over the years I’ve been a reader, it’s always the most identifiable, honest human situations and reactions that draw me into a fictional story. You know those books. They are the ones with characters you feel like you’ve known for years. Stories that you can follow because possibly you’ve been down the same path yourself. Even if the path lies in galaxies far, far away… or deep in unknown realms beneath the surface of the sea, or in times so ancient, there is barely any record of mankind’s passing through. In those cases, the stories can be told in such a way that they are populated with reality in the form of knowable humanity. Even if they take unknown or animal forms, the emotions connect us inside. It takes a lot of practice to perfect a writing craft to the point where a reader can immerse themselves in the words you sprinkle about, seemingly with abandon.

In my own work, I try to keep every story real enough to accomplish that. I remember one of my books needed twelve rewrites to get there, and I had to laugh when an early reader found a horse who turned into a donkey three chapters later. Not magically. Which brings up the entire issue of outside influences and pressures. These things are real in a completely different way. Since November, despite having a long-time project crying out for an ending as well as two series needing additional stories, reality has intruded. The daily dose of ever-worsening news has gotten into a space in my head normally reserved for story evolution and creative idea generation. It’s clinging to the walls in a particularly nasty way that begs a general clean up. Of course, as a fiction writer, I realize that even here is a new reality that needs to be stored and re-used when needed, but sometimes this kind of intrusion can shut down the machine for a while. I guess I’ve read volumes from writers dissecting their own version of writer’s block; and while their experiences dealing with it can be encouraging, when push comes to shove, you have to figure it out for yourself.

One of the feelings that accompany a period of low creativity, is a nagging guilt. I hear a little voice telling me, “well, what kind of professional writer are you anyway, if you don’t write every day and unfold your stories when they need to be unfolded?” I get it. If writing fiction were just a hobby to be run out when it felt like fun, I suppose everyone would give it a shot. Instead, it’s more like a capricious friend who shows up unannounced when they want to party. Then they turn into a stern taskmaster watching the clock. In the mean time, I try to find places where I can stash my storylines and ideas until I can begin to fashion them into something a reader can use. Places in my head, behind the daily stuff I need ready access to, where they will remain safe from too much reality. Places where they can be real enough to get it done, eventually. In that spirit, I’m going to make a pledge to myself to limit my intake of the droning sound of impending disaster the media is serving up. It’s an important job they do; but while I want to keep my feet firmly on the ground, I also need to be able to strap on my wings from time to time. I’m not very good at multi-tasking.

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