September 29, 2015 by Gregory Josephs
Reality, Fiction and a Chapter to Change Everything
Reality is so much more complex than fiction. Its not something I’d ever have thought about before I started this project. But I’ve learned through my short stints of writing over the last six years that real life is far too nuanced to translate directly to fiction. Something more is required than the changing of names. Facts and events and people must all be distilled down into something simpler.
And it must all serve the grander purpose of advancing the story.
I’m thinking about this a lot this week as I approach my rewrite of Chapter Five. It occurred to me that some readers may be intimately familiar with the real life version of events that inspired this chapter, and without a little explanation I might risk leaving a bad taste. So if this applies to you, I’ll assure you again, this is very much a work of fiction.
The source of the conflict between what really happened and what I’m writing revolves around the disconnect between the character of Darren and his partial real-life inspiration. Like Ryan, when I was eighteen I met a wonderful human being who opened my eyes to a world beyond my somewhat narrow imagination. He challenged my beliefs and pushed me outside of my comfort zone time and time again. It wasn’t all roses, but I am so much better for knowing him. Indeed, if we’d never met it is safe to say that my entire life would be different. While I might have eventually left Colorado I am sure I’d never have moved to Boston. I wouldn’t have met my incredible husband or my tight, invaluable group of friends. I couldn’t have grown into the person that I am. And while all of my growth and accomplishments are well and truly my own, none of them would have occurred—at least in the way they did—without him.
He shares a lot of history with Darren. They even share the same first and last initials. But Darren exists only in the world of fiction. The young man I knew in real life was infinitely kinder and far more complex. The young man I knew couldn’t be so vilified. If you know who I’m talking about, I’m sure you’ll agree. He wouldn’t have worked in this story.
So thank you fiction!
Let me come at this another way.
A couple weeks ago when I was going through Chapter One with my husband he kept saying things like:
“So I’m reading this and you were in this car accident and I’m getting so involved—”
“And then you get this letter on your door and—”
I had to stop him. I wasn’t in a car accident, Ryan was in a car accident. Its Ryan that had a letter taped to his door. In the interest of full disclosure, there isn’t a lot of fiction in that first chapter—most of it happened to me just as I described it. My husband knows all that so I can’t fault him but I had to explain that I am not Ryan, and Ryan isn’t me. Each and every character in this story is an amalgamation of multiple people I have known with a little bit of pure fantasy thrown in as sweetener—Ryan and Darren included.
Its the only way I can do it. If Ryan was an exact copy of me I’d never be able to put him into the situations he’s going to get himself into. Similarly with Darren, if he were based solely on the friend I described above I could never allow him to be so cold.
I think its prescient to talk about this now. I need to (vaguely) set the record straight. You’ll see why when Chapter Five is posted on Friday afternoon.
It changes everything.
But to circle back around to the point, I am trying to construct my characters very deliberately. I said above that reality must be distilled down into something that serves the purpose of advancing the story. The narrative doesn’t work unless Ryan is frustratingly naïve and borderline delusional. Furthermore I can’t demonstrate just how out of touch he is if Darren isn’t so obviously disconnected and often cold. I need characters like Steven to say the things that Ryan won’t, and people like Max to act as both a contrast to Darren and a viable, realistic alternative love interest. When I was nineteen at least four different people served Steven’s role in my real life. I’ve distilled them down to one. Max is based on at least three individuals (one of which being my husband who I didn’t meet until many years after the events that inspired this story). If I were to write this story with all those real life people as characters themselves the cast would be enormous and untenable.
So I distill. From pieces of truth I weave together a fiction.
This will all make sense in retrospect. Thanks for continuing to read. Things are about to take a sharp turn, but I’ll save that for Friday—