Sometimes I dream about my characters. They come to me with bits and pieces of the story I am called to tell on their behalf. My characters are usually very real to me. I have conversations with them. I imagine their faces, their voices, their hairstyles. I have always found fiction much more fascinating than fact.
Once I was telling a friend about a woman I wondered about. I shared with her that in my wonderings, a story had unraveled itself in my mind about this woman. Her life, her fears, her vulnerabilities. I told my friend I was going to write a short story about this world I had painted in my head. Her response was that I should ask the woman the truth about who she is, and write a story based on fact. I was so turned off by the suggestion. And I investigated what about her perspective didn’t resonate with me.
What I discovered was that fiction frees me to make whatever decision I want, about everything. I can rewrite a sad part of my life, make it victorious, and no one would ever even know it’s me. Or I can expose something dark and heavy, and the fiction will provide that memory a new home, albeit made up, but some place other than just my own belabored thoughts. This, I have found, is critical to my process. The ability to take, and shift, and reimagine, and make it real in some capacity other than fact or truth. Even still, I wonder often about fact and truth. How they can be different or the same. Fiction gives you the unlimited room to interchange realities, to undo the burden of normal boundaries, and let anything just be.
So I went back to my story idea that my friend disagreed with and began writing what I had imagined to be real. My characters are mine, and I don’t have to adjust them for anyone else’s fact-based living. If fiction is to be fiction, it must be free to roam, and blur, and bend around unknowns. Rendering them real, and plausible, and possible to anyone who reads it. And besides, I always change the names!