Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Truth and Lies

It's something that has really started to irk my son.
It seems that whenever we watch a film, he'll repeatedly remark 'That wouldn't happen would it!'
I suppose he's going through that stage where he's realising that there are grey areas: there's more than just goodies and baddies, and that right and wrong are points of view.

I thought I'd better do a little research before taking my protag into the farm. Really, I was looking for little details I could use, especially for the setting. Four hours later, and five pages of notes in my new notebook, I have all I need. My ideas of 'a farm' were, to say the least, rather naive. Thus far in my ms, I've made little observations where necessary, but now they all seem rather disparate. I've realised that the farm is a dairy farm, and this has provided me with all sorts of insights into the farmer's life, and the life of his daughter, and lovely parallels (and metaphors and similes and word-palette fodder) between Little Miss Muffet and udder-washing and bulls and cheesemaking.

It's number twenty in Sunset's 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes: Don't Assume You Know; Look It Up.
I've been working from memory, having once lived in a cottage next to a farm. I've been picking out pieces of recollections - the silos, the cattle grids, the calving, the smells, the pastures. Now I know what they are all for, and how they fit into the life of a dairy farmer and I have a clearer understanding of the characters who work and live on this farm.
As with all detailed research, I don't intend to swamp the narrative with references; rather, I can bind the whole with a unity of newly-discovered knowledge.

And lest we forget, the author is God - the author makes his world and decides what is and what isn't, all for the good of the story.
Two days ago, I needed a poisonous plant. I needed it to smell lovely. That's what my plot required.
I had a devil of a time finding a sweet-smelling deadly plant that grows in England. And, importantly, I needed something that the average reader would recognise by name.
I couldn't find what I needed, so I made it up:
Nurses' Nightshade.
It sounds lethal. I decide it smells good. And, in choosing the name, I allude to (foreshadow) an imminent reveal.
I decided what I needed and I couldn't find it in reality and so I made up something credible.

Research gives us knowledge.
With that knowledge, we afford ourselves a wider variety of informed choices.
But we should always endeavour to make those choices work for the story.
I think this is what Sunset means when he says that fiction has to be more logical than real-life.

Storm clouds over a dairy farm.

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