Saturday, October 6, 2018

Everything Is Real. Or Maybe Not. (Mary Strand)

This month’s theme is fact vs. fiction, or what we reveal in our fiction and what we “disguise.”  (Happy Halloween!)
 
“I can't disguise myself with a wig and dark glasses - the wheelchair gives me away.” ~ Stephen Hawking

For me, much of “real” vs. “made up” involves whether to name real people, places, and things in my novels.  Personally, I think putting actual restaurants, streets, buildings, products, and even celebrities in books makes them more accessible.  I don’t know anyone who drinks a “cola”: it’s Coke or Pepsi.  (Okay, it’s Coke.  Or, actually, Diet Coke.)  If I’m reading a book set in New York City, I want to hear about the Saks or Macy’s windows at Christmas, not the windows at Fictional Department Store.  Reality puts me RIGHT THERE in the story.  Specifically, on Fifth Avenue.
And suddenly I'm thirsty.
 If nothing disparaging happens at or to the real person, place, or thing, I name it.  My characters can drink a Diet Coke as long as they don’t open the can and find a dead bug inside.  Similarly, my characters can attend actual high schools as long as nothing bad happens at the school.  That’s why, in two different YA novels currently in the works, the teens in one novel attend Southwest, Washburn, and Breck High Schools in Minneapolis ... but the other novel takes place at a fictional Minneapolis high school, because that book deals with bullying and other issues facing my teen heroine, often at school.

In my Bennet Sisters YA series, the characters live in Woodbury, Minnesota, so they hang out at the Mall of America (not a Fictional Really Big Mall) and DQ and such.  But one mildly ugly (and, okay, funny) scene takes place in a pizza parlor, so I invented that restaurant.  In Cat Bennet, Queen of Nothing, Cat takes a road trip to Wisconsin Dells.  I made up the particular waterpark where she gets a job, because someone almost drowns - oops - but she drives along Highways 494 and 94, stops at the (real) Menards in Hudson, Wisconsin, etc.

The one exception that writers talk about is that Disney does NOT like to be named in novels not published by Disney, and some cranky suits at Disney headquarters are bizarrely litigious about it.  So most novelists avoid using the word “Disney.”

Disney.
Disney.
Disney.

(Actually, I avoid it, too.)

Another aspect of fact vs. fiction is the characters themselves.  Readers often try to guess which character in a book is “really the author.”  Short answer: the cute one.  (Ha!)  No, ALL of them are.  I mean, not precisely.  Everything I write comes out of me, so it’s all “me” in a sense, but it’s really a conglomeration of everything I’ve ever done, seen, read about, etc., all of which I put into my magic writer’s “blender,” which spews it all out in fragments that make up the various characters and the things they do.

Example: my Bennet Sisters series.  It seems like most women who’ve read Pride and Prejudice decided at some point which Bennet sister they’re really like, usually Elizabeth or Jane.  (Elizabeth!)  When I started writing the series, my daughter teased me for thinking I was just like Liz; she also said that neither Liz nor I was all that.  (She is now dead to me.) (Kidding!)  But then I wrote Mary’s book ... and I EASILY channeled the geek I always felt I was in junior high.  Then came Cat’s (f/k/a Kitty’s) book.  Problem: Cat/Kitty isn’t athletic or brainy or funny or, really, anything like me, so it took forever to pull her out of me.  But finally I made her artistic, and sent her to Wisconsin Dells, and taught her to drive a manual transmission: all pieces of me.  It wasn't that tough to find Lydia, the Bennet bad girl, inside of me.  This won’t surprise most who know me.  heh heh.

One final question of fact vs. fiction, even within fiction: how much of her true self does a fictional character reveal to OTHER fictional characters?  In Lydia Bennet’s book, Livin’ La Vida Bennet, she’s the ultimate bad girl of her high school.  But ... is she?  Or, since everyone in her life is determined to believe she’s bad, does she merely let them do so regardless of the truth? 

I could go on, but then I’d have to talk about how much we disguise ourselves in another form of fiction: social media.  Don’t get me started.
 
Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at marystrand.com.

8 comments:

  1. Nice explanation. I'm sharing the post on Facebook.

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  2. As a writer, the main problem I have with naming real places, products and people is that they can change before the book comes out. Market East Station in Philadelphia changed its name abruptly one day to Jefferson Station, for example. And then there are celebrities who may pass away or have a public fall from grace, products that go off the market, etc.! After having to change several works in progress that couldn't keep up with the real world, I became fond of fictional substitutes. But if I'm setting something in the past, then I do like those touches of reality.
    I admit that as a reader, it's always fun to visit a real place where a novel was set and see how much of it matches the fictional description.

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    1. I know how tough it can be! When I was writing my Bennet Sisters series, the Mall of America changed the name of its amusement park from Camp Snoopy to Nickelodeon Universe! ARGH! And on one book, I was about to name Heath Ledger as a heartthrob, but a voice in my head said, "NO, pick someone else." He died a couple of months later. But I do love touches of reality.

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    2. That's so true about public falls from grace. I removed a few pop culture references from indie pubbed books for just that reason.

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    3. I changed one character's ultimate movie heartthrob after he had very public domestic issues. Yeah, it's not an easy issue.

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  3. Oh, I think a lot of people disguise themselves in social media; I know several of them and think it's interesting (and at times frustrating) how they portray one version of themselves online that is the complete opposite from how they really are in real life.

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    1. When people post the "better" side of themselves on social media, it's often a good thing! (Less grumpy!) But when that side isn't a true part of them, yeah, it's crazy.

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