Thursday, June 13, 2013

Real Life as Fiction

One of the problems of using real-life experiences as a basis of fiction is the difficulty of divorcing oneself from the events in the story to be able to focus on a plot that will appeal to a broader audience. Oscar Wilde’s famous quote that “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life” is the conundrum facing most writers who attempt to create fiction based on real life events. Just because “it really happened” doesn’t mean it’s good fiction.

Real life is messy and complicated and doesn’t follow the rules of fiction.  It’s also boring at times, even mundane. In my attempt to turn three generations of real life into a work of fiction, I find that knowing the “real” people and events has turned out to be both a blessing and a hurdle. Sometimes real life can become too unbelievable for good fiction.  A smooth well-crafted story must have characters that are more exciting, more interesting, and more disturbing than real life to make them worthy of being read. To make the story broad enough for readers to relate to I need to give my characters room to roam and behave in different surroundings and situations. I must take the raw clay of factual material and shape it into something that is my own creation. 

To expand the scope of my story and create a more substantial framework for the plot, I must distance myself from the real characters and make them my own. I must structure the formlessness, confusion, and indecision of everyday life into the demands of a novel with believable characters and a dramatic plot. The challenge is to lift the characters, events tragedies and triumphs from the pages of real life and create a new existence for them.

By looking at the family through the lens of several generations I hope to present it realistically as part of a larger social predicament. The historical evidence reveals that families have always been in flux and often in crisis, and that families have been most successful wherever they have built meaningful networks beyond their own boundaries. Every family, even though it is made up of individual members, results in a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.  According to Bowen’s theory of family systems, it is the nature of a family that its members are intensely connected emotionally. Family members so profoundly affect each other's thoughts, feelings, and actions that it often seems as if people are living under the same "emotional skin." People solicit each other's attention, approval, and support and react to each other's needs, expectations, and distress. The connectedness and reactivity make the functioning of family members interdependent. A change in one person's functioning is predictably followed by reciprocal changes in the functioning of others.

This emotional interdependence presumably evolved to promote the cohesiveness and cooperation families require to protect, shelter, and feed their members. Heightened tension, however, can intensify the processes that promote unity and teamwork within the family, and this can lead to problems. When family members get anxious, the anxiety can escalate by spreading infectiously among them. As anxiety goes up, the emotional connectedness of family members becomes more stressful than comforting. Eventually, one or more members feel overwhelmed, isolated, or out of control. The ones who accommodate the most to reduce the tension in others are often most vulnerable to problems such as depression, alcoholism, affairs, or physical illness.

Family dynamics are shaped by the social, economic and political issues of the times as well as by the personalities involved.  Because humans are capable of change, and family members take part in different experiences, the dynamics within a family never remain the same. Therefore, I have chosen to focus on the changing dynamics of the family from a multigenerational perspective as it copes with the stress of transitions and role changes during times of massive economic and social changes.

 Sounds ambitious! I just hope I’m up to treating it in an entertaining and story-appropriate way!