Saturday, July 12, 2008

Fact and Fiction

By Pat Browning

I can’t remember my first major crush on a fictional character. Not that it was so long ago, but there have been so many of them.

Linda Fairstein’s Mike Chapman, Lawrence Block’s Toby Peters, J.A. Jance’s J.P. Beaumont, for starters. Other characters whose company I enjoy are Hazel Holt’s Mrs. Malory, M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin and Carola Dunn’s Daisy Dalrymple. They’re like old friends. No matter how long it’s been since my last visit, I just pick up where I left off. It’s as if time stands still between books.

Basically, that’s what happens, no matter how real the characters seem.

I interviewed Stephen Booth shortly after BLACK DOG, his debut crime novel, became an international best seller. The interview is still in the Spotlight archives at the Sisters in Crime-Internet Chapter’s web site. Here’s what Stephen said about creating characters:

I love creating the characters and the setting. They are all completely real for me, and I can see Ben Cooper and Diane Fry going about their lives in Edendale quite clearly.

The easiest part is the dialogue, which just flows. This is because I can hear the characters talking—it's almost as if I'm back to be being a journalist, desperately trying to record a conversation as fast as I can…

I love it most when I'm asked about the characters in my novels, because it means readers are responding to them as if they are real people, which is what I'm aiming for.

Sometimes I've been asked what happens to a character after the novel is finished. Strictly speaking, they just cease to exist, of course, but it's a shame to spoil the illusion.
(End quote)

Sometimes the illusion is strong enough to confuse fact and fiction. The late Katherine Shephard called her mysteries “faction”—fact-based fiction.

Before her death, Katherine had written two novels in what was to be a series. In FRATERNITY OF SILENCE and BETRAYED BY SILENCE she blended romantic comedy and mystery, with politics as the backdrop.

She was a bright spirit, as a person and as a performer, and she really connected with an audience. I attended one of her library presentations. As usual, she got a variation of the question: "How did you make the leap from writing political speeches to writing fiction?" She took a beat and said, "What leap?"

It cracked us up and led her into the story of "the mole in the hole," or how she got the idea for her mystery series from overheard conversations in the women's restroom at a political convention. She wrote about political corruption but her books were so warm-hearted, even cozy, that the politicians she wrote about apparently were flattered, not offended.

There’s been an interesting discussion on DorothyL about Shakespeare’s use or misuse of history and geography. As someone pointed out, Shakespeare wasn’t writing history, he was a storyteller.

To quote The Bard himself: “The play’s the thing.”

No comments: