When someone writes about anything, he can draw from exactly three places. He can write:
A) facts; for example, "George Washington was the first president of the United States;"
B) things he's experienced or that people have told him; for example, "When I was seven I went to Florida on vacation," "Bob said he fought in the Vietnam war," etc.; or
C) things he makes up; for example, "A man from Mars came to dinner last night."
These three areas aren't just the primary places writers pull from, they're the only places she can pull from. If someone can name another place where a writer can draw from to write, please let me know.
So, let's call these three places a writer's palette. If I'm going to write something, I'm going to draw from them. They're the only choices I have.
If I draw my material entirely from category A, facts, what kind of work would I be creating? Nonfiction for sure, right? Probably history.
How about Category B, things I've experienced or been told about? The material from this category is probably most closely aligned with memoir.
And Category C, things from my imagination? That's where fiction comes from, right?
Wrong, or at least incomplete.
The notion that fiction comes (entirely) from the imagination is inaccurate. Sure, much of fiction comes from made up things, like my Martian friend, but a good dose of fiction comes from the first two categories as well. We can't help but draw from facts, and things we've experienced or heard about, when we write fiction.
Imagine sitting down and trying to write entirely from your imagination. Look at my fictional sentence above: "A man from Mars came to dinner last night." Didn't happen, totally made up, and yet look at the concepts within the sentence. "Man," "Mars," "dinner," "last night." These are all things that come from fact or things I've learned about through experience. Even fictional categories like science fiction and fantasy can't avoid elements from our world. If they did, we wouldn't be able to understand them.
So, the real world is always a big player in any fictional one.
In light of this, why would someone choose to write fiction? This is where the painter's palette metaphor comes in handy. If you write history or memoir, you're limiting the possibilities of things you can use in your writing. For example, you can't say, "A man from Mars came to dinner last night." (Unless of course he did.) In these two genres, there are colors on your palette you simply can't use. You might want to, but you're writing in a category that doesn't allow it. You can see the red there on your palette, but you can only use yellow and blue.
But if you're writing fiction, you can choose any color you want: red or blue or yellow, or combinations of the three. This is the beauty of fiction.
Not only is fiction the most liberating category (for me), I also believe it's where the richest stories come from. I could name a few hundred examples, but I suspect you can fill these in.
So, what does this all have to do with Stuck Outside of Phoenix the Movie?
I've stated many times that the novel--and the screenplay based on the novel--are fictions, but if you think fiction consists of things that are entirely made up, you might not believe my claim. "Wait, I recognize elements of this person," or "I remember that club," etc. When I call things fictions, I'm not claiming I made them all up. I'm saying I'm drawing from all three of the above categories throughout.
Why would I do that? Why wouldn't I just give you the story of my life in the Tempe music scene in the early 1990s and be done with it? Because I wanted to tell the best story, and frankly, the story of my early 1990s in the Tempe music scene isn't all that compelling. As a writer, I don't want to waste the reader's time. It tends to make them testy.
So, I write fiction because I want to write with the largest palette, which in my opinion creates the best stories.
There are of course other, more nefarious reasons to write fiction. You could want to get back at people by using elements of their personalities in your fictional characters, and portraying these characters in some negative light. This happens, and I suppose there are always going to be people who want to believe it's happening with Stuck. People will think whatever they want to think, and I can't claim perfection, but with Stuck--both the novel and screenplay--I tried simply to tell the best story I knew how to tell at the time, using the categories above. Producer Nico Holthaus and I agreed early on that Stuck the Movie would be the story of a kid trying to get out of Tempe--with the Tempe music scene of the early 1990s as a backdrop--and would not be a dig at anyone or anything.
So read Stuck, or (soon) watch the movie, and if you notice elements of the real world in them, don't assume it's meant to represent or reflect upon those elements in the real world. Like a painter who mixes blue and yellow to make green, it's more complicated than that.
Yours in laying down the law,
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