Stranger Than Fiction?

October 24, 2009

Most writers agree that the basic tenet of fiction writing is simple:  take a lie and make it true for the reader.   Of course, controversy arises shortly afterwards.  The problem?  Not everyone agrees on just how close to fact that fiction must be.  As writers, do we have to follow some of the existing framework of real life in our stories?  Or can we invent everything from scratch?  In essence, I guess I’m talking about creative license, and if there’s such a thing as going “too far.” 

We all know that creative license means the alteration of reality or facts for the sake of a story.  And while it’s easy to see why some writers take issue with changing past events in a historical novel, the lines get blurred when considering the fantasy genre.  Take Stephenie Meyer, for example (yes, I just threw out the SM bomb).  Even though her Twilight series is millions of readers own personal brand of heroine, some writers challenge her tweaking of vampire mythology.  I mean, how dare her vamps not become human torches in the sun?  Nor are they susceptible to garlic or other typical maladies of the dentally-challenged—sacrilege!  But hold up, you say.  Aren’t vampires themselves fictional creatures—well, at least according to those of us who don’t indulge in hallucinogenic drugs?  So why on earth should SM—or any writer—be bound by rules for things that don’t even exist in the first place?

The conundrum of creative license was driven home even more after I read a query letter critique on a writers’ discussion board.  I found myself stunned by one of the crits on a Middle Grade fantasy story.  Why?  Because the critter was questioning if the author accurately portrayed the way curses are transferred.  Silly me.  And here I thought accurately portraying curses was an oxymoron.  Since, you know, curses are imaginary and all.  (And if they aren’t, I beg you—don’t curse me for spouting off, pretty please?)

I guess what it boils down to is this:  creative license means different things to different people.  What conclusions have I personally drawn?  Simple.  For me anyway, it all goes back to the basic tenet of fiction writing—making your lie feel true.  So long as a book sells the fiction as fact, and does it well, then I don’t care what reality or expectations get altered in the process.  I just need to believe.  And yes, for all you Twilight haters—this includes sparkly vamps. 

But enough about me and my unhealthy, albeit drug-free, obsession with all things vampire.  Where do you draw the line in terms of creative license in fiction writing?

Debra Driza



  1. My own personal opinion is that some mythical creatures and elements have become so entrenched in popular culture that breaking with their traditional depictions is a calculated risk.

    For example, my current WiP deals with werewolves. Their transformations are not tied to the full moon. But I do know the myth about the full moon and made the conscious choice to break from that.

    If memory serves correctly, Anne Rice’s vampires don’t have an issue with crucifixes or churches. In the movie adaptation of Interview, Louis addresses this by casually throwing out the detail that he quite likes crucifixes. In the television adaptation of Vampire Diaries the vamps can only go out in the sun because of their rings, showing that the creators are aware of the traditional rule that vamps + sun = barbecue.

    It seems that the issue people take with Meyer and Twilight (if people on the internet are to believed) is less a conscious choice and more not really being familiar with vampire lore.

    My own personal rule of thumb: It’s fiction. Break and bend all you want BUT try to at least have a sense of where and why your are doing it if you are dealing with creatures that are extremely entrenched in pop culture.

  2. I’m in the camp of changing it as much as as often as you like as long as it’s not totally ridiculous. When I read “sparky vampires” I was like, “SWEET!” I’d never been locked into vampire lore though, so it didn’t ruffle my feathers. I don’t want to read the same thing 30 different ways – like eating a hotdog on a round plate, a square plate, in a basket, it’s all a hotdog and I’m going to get sick of it. Change it up and I’ll love it forever!!


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