July 22, 2015

Real Life vs. Fiction

By Kaye George

I’ve heard people say that a critic or publisher told them a scene they wrote was unrealistic. They insisted that this is exactly how it happened in real life! It’s hard to understand how something real can be unrealistic, isn’t it?

It’s true, though. Real life is NOT realistic, not for fiction. Why is this?

Mark Twain had this to say, “It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.” Georgia O’Keeffe also weighed in on the subject: “Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.”

To understand why this is, think of the fiction you like best. Why do you read it? Do you read for escapism? To learn about other lives, times, and places? To be thrilled? Scared?

I’ll bet a lot of people pick that first one. If you are reading fiction, you have chosen not to read the news or to read nonfiction. The latter give you reality. The former gives you a window on reality, views on reality, but it’s not portraying actual events (unless you’re reading historical fiction that uses them).

I got an awakening after I’d been trying to write fiction for ten years. I was creating likeable characters, good plots, and using techniques that I’d learned from great teachers. However, I got hundreds of rejection slips. When I got fed up with that, I decided to write something fun, over the top, silly. Ridiculous. Outrageous. Something that would amuse me.

To my astonishment, I hit upon the formula for success. Here’s what I learned: Write characters that are bigger than life, more vivid, more interesting. More bizarre, even. Write scenes that are outrageous and exaggerated.

That was my first book that found a publisher and it was also nominated for an Agatha Award for Best First Novel. People liked it!

When I thought about it, it made sense. A character who jumps off the page is more interesting than one who lies there waiting for you to read about her. I went on to write two more books about Imogene Duckworthy and her mishaps and I have readers asking for the next one. Music to my ears!

In my other writing, I haven’t continued the same tone as in that series, but I do keep in mind that my writing must be vivid, must have more impact than a non-fiction report of what happened, no matter how devious the plot. I want to write characters that my readers will remember and situations that will either scare them, amuse them, or make them turn the page quickly.

By the way, I got my agent by sending her a copy of the first Imogene Duckworthy mystery, Choke. She liked my voice! I guess I got something right.

I hope some of this helps you!

Kaye George, national-bestselling and multiple-award-winning author, writes several mystery series: Imogene Duckworthy, Cressa Carraway (Barking Rain Press), People of the Wind (Untreed Reads), and, as Janet Cantrell, Fat Cat (Berkley Prime Crime cozies). The third, Fat Cat Takes the Cake, will appear March 2016. The second Cressa Carraway novel, Requiem in Red, will appear in early 2016. The second People of the Wind, Death on the Trek, comes out in June 2016. Her short stories appear in anthologies, magazines, and her own collection, A Patchwork of Stories. The next one, “Heartbreak at Graceland,” will come out in Memphis Noir in November. She reviews for Suspense Magazine. She lives in Knoxville, TN. Her Social Media links are: Webpages: and
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