Saturday, August 22, 2015

Stranger than Fiction?

I think we can all agree that fiction and reality are two totally different pair of shoes - as in, Manolo-Blahnik-I-will-break-my-ankle-and-say-thank-you versus those ratty woolly slippers you've been meaning to throw out for the past eon or two.

*** Interlude: Be honest now, which of those two immediately made you think of reality? ***

Putting aside true-story documentary-style writing and the realm of academia, fiction is what people writing books deal with, day in, day out (and I'm not including memoirs in that list, because I'm rather sure some or even most of those involve a judicious bit of fiction, too)(Am I being too cynical there? If yes, sorry)(no offence to those of you writing memoirs, of course). 

Writers get their cues, their inspiration, from all over the place, be it flights of fancy or, yes, reality. But no work of fiction is ever the same as reality, because let's face it, reality is either too strange or absurd to believe (I'll get back to that in a bit) or too boring to be worth putting down on paper. A good writer will know or at least learn how to pare down reality to those crucial bits that make up the backbone of a story, and then work from there - because quite frankly, the minutiae of daily life are not (in general) what people want to read about. A story has, as my primary school teacher drummed into us, a beginning, a middle and an end, and anything that does not belong to one of those or lead from one to the other is very likely superfluous to the whole thing. Dialogue is only good if it furthers either plot or character development/understanding, scenes should only be included if they have a point to make. 

That's not how it happens in real life. 

*** And no, before you ask, beginning, middle and end don't absolutely have to be in order. We're talking fiction here, remember? ***

On the other hand, life is sometimes stranger (or, like I said, more absurd) than fiction. The holiday I've just come back from is a good example - I went to Bali with a group of friends, or at least that was the plan. We ended up on something of an odyssey thanks to a volcanic ash cloud courtesy of some Sumatran volcano. First our flight was cancelled (right about at the time we were at the airport to get checked in), then there were no flights except one to Jakarta, so we went there (flights were leaving from Jakarta to Bali, which seems weird given the ash cloud thing but whatever) and spent the hours waiting for our flight there finding one from Jakarta to Bali. We spent the night at an airport hotel in Jakarta (Google maps time: 10 mins from airport to hotel; Jakarta time: 1 hr from airport to hotel, right through some rather scary favela-type housing areas). The plane we managed to get booked on to Bali was supposed to leave at 8am-ish, but actually left at about 3pm (thank you again, ash cloud). I think we spent about 9 hrs at Jakarta domestic airport, during which we had to treck up and down a set of stairs again and again because the only board with flight info was downstairs and all the waiting area-type places were upstairs. They also managed to call out our flight but actually meant to call out a different flight number, so we rushed to the gate only to be told that the airport system (!!!) had the wrong flight number recorded and no, no matter what the airport website said, our flight had not just left.... and don't even get me started on the boat trip from Bali to one of the Gili islands!! 

*** Am I ranting? Probably...sorry....***

Long story short, our trip (and don't worry, we did manage to have a great time in spite of the series of unfortunate events) was one for the books. HOWEVER...that doesn't mean that writing down what happened makes a good story for anything other than a dinner conversation. It was merely a series of events, however annoying, and not a story in a fiction writing kind of way. Writing it down as is might be therapeutic - and rather amusing in retrospect - but even in terms of travel writing it lacks something - wait for it - namely a storyline. Things were happening, but they were happening TO us (the main characters, in this case). A story is not (only) made of things happening TO the main character, they are about what the main character does or feels or whatever whilst things are happening. 

Reality may throw fiction-esque situation at us, but that just makes us part of the population of planet earth. Things happen. Turning real situations into fiction, now there's something writers can do (some better than others). Find the backbones of what makes reality interesting, put some flesh to that, make sure it all fits together in a coherent way and voilĂ , a story! None of that reality mumbo jumbo. 

***Manolos all the way, baby!***

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