How do you turn Real Life into Real Fiction?
Writing a novel about issues such as child trafficking and prostitution is risky, to say the least; but sometimes in order to get a point across you need to tell a story that is so unbelievable it creates the same curiosity that causes people to stand in the path of a tornado. They have to see it, no matter what the consequences, because only then can they truly understand its power.
But then comes the tricky part. After all, how do you turn real life into real fiction? To start with it has to be believable, which is something, surely, a fiction writer shouldn’t have to face. Fiction, by definition, is the type of book or story which is written about imaginary characters and events and not based on real people and facts. So how was I to make a made-up story, with fictional characters, seem real enough to invoke the kind of response I wanted, without inviting criticism for being contrived? After all, it’s not just a story, it’s a real thing that happens to real people, so whatever I write has to be, well, real. You see my problem?
On the other side is my propensity for adventure. I’m a sucker for those thrillers that pull you breathlessly from one scene to the next, never quite allowing you the sweet taste of conclusion. A story that manipulates the realms of possibility to the point that anything goes – there is no reason why that girl can’t leap twenty foot from a balcony, land on a car roof, get to her feet, and run; or swim through shark-infested waters with a severed limb without getting chomped. Because it’s a fictional story and no one cares, as long as the baddies get caught, the hero survives, and they all live happily ever after.
But that happily-ever-after is a problem for me. Give the reader a happy ending and they get to close the book with their conscience clear. But as a writer who has researched the truth about child trafficking and relived some of the horrors, I don’t think the reader should get off so lightly. I want the story to stay with them long after they have turned out the light.
So where does that leave me? On the one hand there is the authenticity that accompanies a real-life issue, on the other is the poetic licence afforded a fiction writer. But perhaps putting the two together gives me something truly powerful. A boundless imagination is the gift I possess, but what wraps it in a neat bow and delivers it to the reader is the reality. And this, I hope, is what will pull them into the path of the tornado.