08 December 2007

Interweaving fact with fiction

History, particularly personal history, is a great source of information for writers of fiction. Many writers, like Milan Kundera about whom I’ve been blogging recently, base their stories upon their own experiences, using a great deal of material, sometimes verbatim, from their own lives.

They interweave fact with fiction, creating make-believe worlds which appear to us truer than real life. In the hands of a skilful writer, fact, along with a dose of the writer’s imagination becomes fiction. Yet, to us, this fiction appears as fact. The reality of the story is what we believe in.

On this subject, I recently read an old review of one of Asian-American author Amy Tan’s books, ‘The Opposite of Fate’. The review, by Clea Simon, in the San Francisco Chronicle from 7 December 2003, describes how this make-believe world of the author can appear to her/his readers.

“Amy Tan has built a career exploring mother-daughter relationships, particularly the tensions between a Chinese immigrant and her American-born children. Because Tan is Asian American and has continued to revisit these themes in her fiction, her fans have made the easy assumption that she writes from experience. These fans, she notes in her new collection of essays, ‘The Opposite of Fate’, often take for granted that she has lifted fiction directly out of fact, going so far as to congratulate her on her chess mastery (she doesn’t play chess) or asking after the children that her apparently fictional stand-ins enjoy (and she doesn’t have children).”

Of course, the writer of fiction views the process differently (and I quote again from the article): “But while the author does acknowledge that art grows from life, it is how it changes on the journey into fiction that makes the telling worthwhile.”

[Citation: ‘Amy Tan explores the interweaving of fate, fact and fiction’, Clea Simon, San Francisco Chronicle, 7 December 2003]

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