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Writer’s Craft #73 – Reality and Fiction

May 21, 2012
Lynda Williams

Lynda Williams, Author of Okal Rel Saga

Your host, Lynda Williams, is the author of the Okal Rel Saga (Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing) and editor of the Okal Rel Legacies series (Absolute Xpress). She also works as Learning Technology Analyst for Simon Fraser University and teaches a introductory web development course at BCIT. For a list of Okal Rel titles see: Lynda Williams on Amazon.com.


“David, you’re a writer. Make it up.” That’s the advice writer David Benioff gets from his grandfather in the intro to City of Thieves. David wants to tell the real life story of his grandfather surving the seige of Leningrad in World War II and doesn’t want to mess up someone else’s story. Yet his grandfather is wiser.

How much do we make up in the translation as we map our own experience into our work? I’ve get more perspective on this question as I get older. I am also astronished by how literal readers assume the process is. There is lots of life experience in my stories of bioengineered super-pilots, a transparent society governed by AIs and a space age legal system in which champions duel. But it isn’t translated in a linear fashion. There was no sexual abuse in my childhood, for example. It always alarms me when people conjecture on this. I became fascinated by the difficulty of overcoming the psychological fall out of sexual abuse while working with a crisis centre during impressionable years. The very innocence of my upbringing provided the contrast that made its opposite so necessary to think my way through as a teenager, and my way of doing this was to torture a character: in this case the Courtesan Prince of Book 1, Amel Dem’Vrel. On the other hand the self-absorption of depression in a loved one that peeks out from other characters is something I did, personally, experience. And the power struggles of Fountain Court owe something to family politics and the post-secondary institutions where I’ve worked.

How do you mix up your fiction with your realities, and what worries do you have about how it might be interpreted?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. May 30, 2012 10:44 am

    That’s the danger, isn’t it? Readers will leap to conclusions. Friends and family wonder if you’re drawing on experiences using them. Part of the risks. But this is all a part of a bigger issue, the line between fact and fiction. Even in the most rigorously researched biography, the author is often forced to conjecture, to fill in the gaps between the facts. And how many of these “facts” rely on the subjective interpretations of witnesses? The prejudices of all the actors involved? Which version of history is closest to the truth? A great deal of non-fiction has been written that many claim fall into the category of fantasy.

    So, as the author, you can swear your work is based on something that really happened, and some folks won’t believe it. Or, conversely, you can swear your work is NOT based on anything that really happened, and some folks won’t believe that, either.

  2. May 30, 2012 1:08 pm

    That’s one advantage of writing fantasy. Nobody will ever suspect me of actually having a demon in my office, or talking to cats around campus.
    But while none of the events in my work are drawn from experience, most of the characters’ attitudes are. I find that once I admit that, questions about events fade away.

  3. May 30, 2012 10:28 pm

    There have been a few times I’ve written something only to have friends or family point out later that it really happened. I may not have been thinking about it at the time, but some things are suspiciously similar to real life events. I don’t know if that’s a subconscious thing or if its pure coincidence. Maybe a little of both.

    • June 1, 2012 12:35 pm

      We are what we experience. Right?

      • June 1, 2012 1:28 pm

        Not unless you subscribe to the tabula rasa theory of mind. Experience shapes what we are supplied with by genetics and environment. Thus each of us can take something completely different away from an identical experience.

  4. June 10, 2012 10:06 am

    We are what we experience given that we come at the job with a tool kit for processing, recording and interpreting inherited from our ancestors.🙂

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