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Sunday, 11 August 2013

When You're Strange - Writing Real People

Writing For Real

So far, I've looked at fictional characters in all kinds of genres, including SciFi, Fantasy, Romance, and FanFic. But what about Historical Fiction, and writing about reality?

I've often wondered about the amount of effort required to make a real person your protagonist. This kind of fiction often gets a bad name because it suffers from poor quality research, or the rather worrying trend of fictionalising real people to feed a fanatical obsession.

The Channel 4 documentary, Crazy About One Direction, is a case in point. One girl describes belonging to the fandom as belonging to a cult or sect, and teens and tweens all over the UK and US are writing and posting their FF online, ranging from the original, awful, harmless, and downright disturbing.

Before these fans are condemned or judged for their obsession, it must be remembered that this is nothing new - in fact, it's human nature. Celebrity culture has been in existence as long as humanity, and there is apparently a deep-seated need in homo sapiens throughout their entire history to find people or objects worthy of worship. People attach themselves to those who deeply resonate with them, speak to them in a particular way, or touch something that nothing and no one else has touched.

In the distant past, the celebrities were the gods, the priests, the oracles, the heroes, the rulers, the bards. Charismatic personalities attracted great crowds of followers, whether they were prophets or kings, sorcerers or miracle-workers, dead or alive.

We're talking serious devotion - from pharoah-worship to saints' cults, and from sports' teams to Beetlemania. All over the world wherever human beings have settled, hundreds, thousands, millions of us have been showing up to deify and celebrate men and women at shrines, victorious processions, halls, stadiums and central squares.

If writing about real people is difficult when they are not so well known, how much more difficult is it to write about these kinds of people? Not just the fantasy versions of them, as they appear to their legions of followers and fans, but the real personalities behind the hype and the fiction, the people stripped bare?

One of my favourite authors on does just that.

Writing under her pen name P. C. James, @QueenOfTheHighway on wattpad is one of Jim Morrison's biggest fans, if not the biggest. She is also a very talented writer, and completely committed to her subject material. If you ever thought Fan Fiction was not for you, then think again.

Wild Child: Love Cannot Save You Part 1 [EDITED]Realms of Bliss: Love Cannot Save You Part 2 [ROUGH DRAFT]

I asked her to post on her experiences of writing her books, WILD CHILD and its sequel, REALMS OF BLISS, parts one and two of 'Love Cannot Save You', and her insight, impressive understanding of her subject and meticulous attention to detail blew me away.

Jim Morrison

By P. C. James

  • One might think that writing about a real person versus a fictional one is easier, but in all honesty I have found over the years that nothing could be further from the truth, especially when it comes to the Lizard King himself.

    If there's one person who is nearly impossible to figure out, it’s Jim Morrison. Dozens of biographies have been written trying to accomplish that very thing, and they have all come up short. Of course no one is really easy to figure out, but even people who knew Jim couldn't really understand him. The man was an enigma through and through, so getting inside his head has proven to be an extreme challenge.

    Of course there are certain factors that have made the process easier on me. I wouldn't have made the decision to write this story at all if I did not truly love Jim.

    I have been writing this story for nearly four years now, ever since I was seventeen, and during that time my love and understanding for Jim has only grown. It is possible for me to write him as a character because I am like him in so many ways. How do I know that I’m like him? Well, because of all the research I’ve done. Though it is not easy to understand Jim, it is possible if you are devoted enough. Through all the stories I've heard and all the people I’ve spoken to, interviews I’ve listened to, documentaries I’ve watched and the way I’ve studied him in general (his body language, his facial expressions, his tone) I believe I have been able to separate the myth from the man, the truth from the legend.

    People attempted to profit off of Jim even while he was still alive-and his mysterious death only added to the false stories. Many have claimed to know the truth, to have seen a side to Jim that no one else did. But when I looked further into these claims, nothing any of these people said matched up with the known facts. There are many things about Jim that I do not know, and probably never will know. But I've taken what I have learned to be true and gone from there.
    Jim came across differently to everyone he knew, and while this could have made understanding him all the more difficult, it has actually proven to be the most useful bit of information that I have come across. Jim was incredibly complex. He could be the most charming, gentle, loving person you'd ever meet and he could be a belligerent jerk who brought out the worst in you. Nothing is black and white, and this applies to Jim as well. He was made up of grey areas, as we all are, and this is what I have chosen to focus on.

    Of course if I were to attempt to write from Jim's perspective, it would be much more difficult, and probably impossible if I'm being honest. That's where my main character comes in. Caroline Andrews, while based on Pamela Courson, is much more than a fictionalized version of Jim's "cosmic mate." The story is told through her eyes, which in my opinion represents the way in which everyone who knew Jim attempted to understand him, get past the barriers that he put up and relate to him on a deeper level. So you see I am not really writing about what Jim truly felt and thought because no one but him could possibly know what that was. I am writing about what others took away from their encounters with him, and how he came across. 
    That's not to say that I’m not attempting to be as accurate as possible. I would not have spent four years writing and rewriting, doing seemingly endless research, if I didn't want this to be as close to the truth as possible. There are so many false stories about Jim, the most obvious example being the Oliver Stone movie, that it sickens me. That's why I chose to write this in the first place; not only to better understand Jim, but to show people that he wasn't insane. He wasn't simply a drunk jerk who messed with people for the fun of it. He was multifaceted and his demons were merely one part of him.

    Now while some things have remained consistent throughout the entire writing process, most have changed the more I learned. The best example is that of John Densmore's character. While most books about Jim portray John as simply the anxious drummer who did not get along with Jim, he was so much more than that. Did you know for example that he was the most humane of the group? That while the other members sold out and even threw Jim's memory under the bus, John remained loyal and true to Jim's beliefs? Neither did I until I did some digging. When I met John this past May I realized how kind, laid back and honest he truly is. His account of the band’s history is the most reliable, and while it may be biased in places (he admits that it is. After all how could it not be?) he did not make anything up. He did not exaggerate to make himself look better or to make a profit. I know this not only from meeting him, but from speaking to other people who knew Jim (who have asked that they remain anonymous.)
    And with that John went from simply being a secondary character who I have only read about to a real human being whose mannerisms I can actually describe from memory. He became a much bigger part of the story. While originally he was going to be nothing more than the drummer who Caroline did not know well because of his relationship with Jim, he is now the member of the band who Caroline is closest to (aside from Jim.)

    Naturally this affected my interpretation of other characters, like Ray for example. Rather than honesty and loyalty to Jim, fame and money is what motivated the band’s organist. Did this motivate me to write Ray as a less likable character and more of an antagonist? Absolutely. But what have I been saying throughout this whole thing? Everyone is made up of grey areas. Ray had good in him even if he was greedy. 
    So bottom line: does writing characters as more in between and less extreme make for a less interesting and exciting story? Absolutely not. Jim's life was interesting and exciting enough without being embellished. What it does make for is a more believable, realistic story.

    And as they say: truth is stranger than fiction.

WILD CHILD and REALMS OF BLISS are both available to read for free on wattpad. 

Even if you have no idea who Jim or The Doors are, you'll find James's work engaging and accessible.

Have you ever written about a real person? Do you write Historical Fiction? What is the most challenging aspect of the research for you?

Leave a comment and join the discussion!

Monday, 5 August 2013

Who Are You (And Where Have You Been All My Life?) [Part V]

Hearts and Flowers 

I've touched on this before, in my previous post Mr Perfect Meets Miss Virgin. I have a real thing about writing stereotypes in any genre, but sometimes fall into the trap myself (I think as writers we're all guilty of that at some point in our work). 

I make no apologies for repeating that post as the introduction to JC McDowell's consideration of writing the Romantic Hero, as I think it adds an interesting dimension to the debate. 

Writer P. J. Malone kickstarted the whole thing several months ago, voicing her opinion on contemporary romances: 
'Most people don't get swept off their feet by some hot thing, and I'm tired of reading about something that makes me want more than a happy normal relationship where you meet, you fall in love, you fight, you make up, you fight again, make up, start a family, and repeat the fighting/making up thing, get old and fat and both of you look beautiful to the other because of your soul, not your face.'
The following comments on the post varied.

Charlotte Ashley commented,
I definitely err on the side of liking my romances fantastical - but the way I like 'em, they also tend to all end badly in heroic, romantic deaths... so at least they are "realistic" in that I freely admit romance the way I like it could never last...

Have blogged about this repeatedly, because I never find romances I like! (

Commenter Yzabel seemed to agree:

I'm not too fond of perfect love stories either; sure, they bring some feeling escapism, but this very feeling tends to challenge my suspension of disbelief too easily. I prefer when things aren't perfect, when the protagonists both have their flaws, and when things aren't so black-and-white. I also quite agree with you regarding "Jane Eyre" (which is one of my favourite novels, by the way); and its ending is far IMHO from hinting at a perfect future life (the power she holds over him and how Adele is treated, for instance).

I've come to realize that the "romance" I write in my own story is often flawed. First, I rarely find myself with characters who are "meant to be together"; then their relationships often contain a couple of weird elements, sometimes bordering on the twisted kink. I'm not sure what it reveals about me, but I'm not even sure writing vanilla romance is something I'd actually enjoy. There must be flaws for me in it.

Yet others - including P. J. Malone herself - responded by saying they saw the appeal in Mr and Miss Right characters. All Rite/Right/Write? summed up the cause for fantastical romances:

Surely the point to literature is, as with film, you suspend disbelief and escape from what could be your grim reality?

I thought it would be good to resurrect the discussion as my blog seems to be SFF heavy, and was fortunate enough to have writer JC McDowell do a guest post on writing the Romantic Hero.

The Development of the Romantic Hero 

Merriam-Webster defines a hero as a mythological or legendary figure often of divine descent endowed with great strength or ability; an illustrious warrior; a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities; one who shows great courage.

Merriam-Webster also defines romance as a medieval tale based on legend, chivalric love and adventure, or the supernatural; a prose narrative treating imaginary characters involved in events remote in time or place and usually heroic, adventurous, or mysterious; a love story especially in the form of a novel.

And thus, the Romantic Hero is born.

To understand the modern romantic hero, we must visit where the romantic hero was born. In testing the waters as a romantic novelist, I seize inspiration from arguably the greatest, and in many ways, the pioneer of the romance novel, Jane Austen. Throughout her works, she has written her heroes as men of wealth and stature; qualities every woman in the 1800’s sought in a man, and the epitome of the classic hero is the most honorable Fitzwilliam Darcy. The elusive Mr. Darcy had women of the time hating such a preposterous man, until he showed his gentle heart and his insatiable love for Elizabeth Bennett. Over the next two hundred years, the most honorable Mr. Darcy has now become swoon-worthy. It wasn’t until over a century and a half later did the romance novel finally become modern and “took it into the bedroom.”

The heroines evolved over the years from damsels in distress to strong, capable women, a force to be reckoned with. The heroes, though, always remained one thing… dominating. Whether it was a simple argument, a lover’s quarrel perhaps, and the hero took the heroine’s face into his hands and sealing her words with a kiss; or the latter… pure, hardcore romance, the men were always strong, reserved, and… swoon-worthy.

The Romantic Hero morphs into different characteristic traits: a man in uniform or a man in a suit; a cowboy or a rock star; a pirate or a noble, rich Englishman. These aren’t necessarily the traits women wish for in a man (…or maybe…), but these are traits that women fantasize about. Fantasies are the foundation for every romantic novel, and every romantic novel centers on a fictional woman fulfilling every woman’s fantasy. Women live vicariously through the heroine, melting into a puddle of goo with every romantic word, gesture, and caress by the hero. They often will end a book with a sad smile because they just want to end up as that pirate’s wench.

In my first story, Watching Fireflies, I chose the modern day Mr. Darcy; a southern cowboy: a gentleman, a hard working man, and a man with the swagger of an accent, and lest we forget, the tipping of a hat and the southern drawl of a “yes ma’am.”

A hero doesn’t exactly have to wear a cape to be a hero, he just has to save the girl’s heart, and the hearts of all readers, making women fall in love with fictional characters, until they pick up their next romance novel and fall in love all over again.

-J. C. McDowell

McDowell is the author of the popular Love Bug Series on wattpad, and has done a blog post on Finding your Inner Southern Gentleman on fellow Fantasy writer Maya Starling's blog. McDowell is currently pitching the first of the series, Watching Fireflies, to agents and publishers - so watch this space!

Watching Fireflies (unedited - PG-13)Hornet's NestButterfly SanctuaryButterfly ResistanceDragonfly Redemption

Beginning to start the next chapter of her life, Jordan Hawthorne’s world comes crashing down. She runs away from the life she knew to the middle of nowhere. She has vowed to never get put into one of those situations by never falling in love again. But what happens when she meets Tom McCloud? The cowboy has always put his business first, but things change when you stumble upon a heartbroken city girl. Will Tom be the man Jordan needs, or will she run back to the ex-fiancé who won’t leave her alone?

Follow JC McDowell on twitter, facebook, wattpad and tumblr.