Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Believability and Truth

Writers don't always write about what we know. We all know that too. I write about a female character who performs sexual favors for information, gets into fist fights and works as a detective. I've never done either of those. (Interpret as you will ;-)

But I can research and imagine pretty well. The links in my favorites folder are very incriminating. Especially since I have a 100k life insurance policy on my Hubby. (He's save as long as I love him more than I love $100k ;-)

One of the things that I know rather well is my setting-- Livingston County Michigan. The novels and many of the short stories are set in this little county on the edge of suburbia and sandwiched between several important Michigan cities. Big enough to have it's own hospital, jail, and airport, but small enough that it has less people in the entire county than there are in the whole city of Ann Arbor. And an interesting collection of small cities, suburbs, and countryside.

From my not-always-law-abiding students, I've learned a lot about groups of young people in this county. Where they hang out, where they shoplift from, who they know. They don't always stratify as is "expected." We have rich kids who are expected to attend college going to the parties at the trailer park.

Do I write Livingston County as one setting, or do I use it's rich and varied settings-- sending Bo from a vacant field on the west side of the county, then an hour later at a crowded warehouse or a million-plus-dollar mansion overlook an exclusive golf course? Do I have poor white trash teens at parties with rich white trash kids as happens with my students? Do I write the Sheriff's Deputy on road patrol and handing out citations-- which they do here, but not all Sheriff's depts. do?

(Yes, pic #2 is an abandoned fast food restaurant from a very popular chain. There's a story there... but for another day.)

Do I write what I know, or acquiesce what people expect?

I also grapple with that question of 'believability'. To me, it's all believable. It's what I've grown up with, what I've lived for years.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Guess what. I set a lot of my stories in a place like that too. It's the place I live in in my head.

sandra seamans said...

I've been thinking about the reality thing a lot lately. I mean, people will watch TV that doesn't get anything right, reality shows that are scripted, but let a writer get one thing wrong and they're all over you like a pack of wolves. Why? Why is getting it right in a book more important than on TV or in a movie? It's all fiction.

mini-rant over. I guess if you write your stories with enough reality the mistakes shouldn't matter. And let's face it, someone in NYC isn't going to get what's going on in the country and vice versa. so, I guess it's pretty much up to the writer to make it come off sounding both truthful and realistic and hope the reader gets it.

Chris O'Grady said...

Good to see your P. I.'s skills. I only hope my own guy, Jim Brandon, can halfway measure up in my just-published hard-boiled private eye novel THE FOREVER GIRL - ISBN # 1606939939, a revenge novel set in Las Vegas.

Clair Dickson said...

Chris-- that's kind of low, spamming your title in a comment. I'll leave it, but really, that's just wrong.

Network, don't spam.

Clair Dickson said...

Patti-- see, now you know that the place in your head is real. You belong out here in the cornfields. Come... join us. 0.0

Sandra-- interesting point about readers vs. tv. Maybe Hollywood has set the bar so low that people just expect less.