“Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie.” ~ Stephen King in On Writing.
Today I wrote two freshmen orientation scenes for my story “Liberty”. One of them takes place at the Fine Arts building. It is sort of a kick-off pep rally for freshmen beginning “the first day of the best of the lives.” The second one describes an introduction to the library and includes a rather humorous exchange between one freshman radical and an upperclassman trying to keep the show on the road.
To write these scenes, I pooled the collective memories of some Hanover College alums. Through the haze of lost brain cells and over 30 years distance, I got some good detail that I weaved into the scenes, adapting it to suit my fancy and keep the story moving along. I’m reasonably happy with the results for now, but I’m sure they can be improved with time and re-writes.
As I go about this task of bringing truth to life in a fictional world that is perhaps even more real than what actually happened, yet also a distortion of truth in time, many ethical (and even some legal) questions arise. For example –
When I borrow characteristics from a real-life person and then have the fictional characters do things the real-life person never did, am I misrepresenting the truth and potentially harming someone?
If I include overheard quotes from historical figures and present them accurately (though in a different context), would I be subject to libel or slander?
Personally, are people going to assume things about my behavior based on what my main character does? How will this affect my future?
For now, I’ll let these and other questions simmer a bit and focus on getting the story right. I do believe it will be wise to consult some very wise and astute writers, editors, and perhaps even lawyers as this story comes to life.