There is a wonderful quotation we all know and often state, ‘The truth is stranger than fiction’.
The conversation often goes something like this:
Person 1 – ‘Did you hear about that guy who grew an extra leg while taking a nap one afternoon?’
Person 2 – ‘That certainly isn’t true.’
Person 1 – ‘I read about it in the “American Journal of Wacky Medicine”.’
Person 2 – ‘Hmm. You couldn’t make that stuff up.’
Person 1 – ‘Yup, truth is stranger than fiction.’
Originally, the quotation came from that self-aggrandising media-whore, Byron. It’s from his epic poetic series, Don Juan, and reads:
Tis strange,-but true; for truth is always strange;
Stranger than fiction: if it could be told,
How much would novels gain by the exchange!
How differently the world would men behold!
What makes his little stanza so interesting is that Byron was a great creator of spin. He shaped a persona for himself, one as a Lothario and a Dandy about town, which became part of his image and his fictional works. In some ways Byron was the ‘romantic junkie poet’ mocked in Blackadder, but many of the rumours of his misadventures were invented to publicise his books. Byron was, himself, a bit of fiction.
The quotation about truth and fiction that I prefer acomes from Mark Twain (if we’re acknowledging the fictitious lives of authors, perhaps we should call him by his real name — Samuel Clemens). Clemens stated, ‘Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.’
It takes a lot to create suspension of disbelief in the mind of a reader, so before something outrageous and unrealistic appears in your novel or short story, you must create a world and build characters to support the crazy plot twist. Otherwise, your readers won’t feel the work is convincing and will put down your book never to pick it up again.
Let’s say something crazy happens to you in real life, and you decide to write a story about it. Remember because you are writing a story or a novel — and you can’t follow all your readers around stating ‘It happened. Really, truly this actually happened’ — the reader will require strong proof that this event is valid. Therefore, make sure that you have set up this situation in a believable world with strong characters. And, also be willing to acknowledge that somethings work in life but don’t work in fiction, and your true life experience many need to be cut.