Embedding fact into fiction:
Back in 2005, This novel was in it’s roots, as little more then an assignment for a post-grad. I was work-shopping a segment for constructive criticism with my colleagues in a class room in Manchester and I received a comment that gave me a little direction. Particularly when it resonated with agreement around the room.
Exactly what the person said I can’t remember word for word, however it was on the line of the detail with which I was describing the night club, Venue One which features prominently in the story. “There’s so much detail in it, it feels so real. So then later, when the vampire attacks, it immediately seems real to me. I just accepted it as fact.”
I was about to ignore the first rule of our workshop and make me reply, when I remembered not to talk but just to listen. As this was nodded to and concurred around the room, I thought better of admitting that the reason I had put so much detail into the nightclub was to make up the word count for the submission.
As I took the long cold and dark journey home through Manchester to the get the train back to Crewe (where I got my image of this relentlessly bleak winter from). I kept that thought in my head, and when I got in, I cracked open the red bull (other energy drinks are available but don’t taste as nice), and got to work.
I’m sure there’s a technical phrase for it that I missed in my under-graduate days but I came to refer to it as ’embedding’ and it’s something I made a conscious effort to put into my work from then on. I made sure the rooms had the detail and the setting so that you could put a vampire into that room, and the vampire would fit in. This had a lot to do with flavour and content and also the human characters. This didn’t just apply to the main characters but the side characters too. They needed they’re own problems, histories and surroundings. My bus stops needed young girls hanging around in. I tried to use it give a flavour in the novel that the supernatural would seem believable in. Houses needed to have dusty furniture, families in the street needed to argue, and the job of being a bouncer needed every little detail I could find. This helped that when the Vampire in the nightclub attacks Loraine, the bouncers did what bouncers would do, again making it believable.
There is a phrase “every good lie contains ninety percent truth” and this is the principle. If I want to write a story about a unicorn, on what level do people believe my unicorn is real? How important is it to the story? If I decide my readers will just accept that there is a unicorn, then only those who really deep down want to believe in unicorns will accept it. However, what about the readers who need an excuse to believe it, the ones that can’t just sit there and let it pass over them that in this world, unicorns are real? These are the ones that need the setting, the knowledge, the context. How do you do this?
Firstly, you can take the unicorn out of its natural habitat and into a very real, very established place (there has to be a reason for this). So now our unicorn has fallen through a crack in a dimension, opened up by curse realised by a dying witch, and the crack has sealed behind leaving the unicorn stuck. Now we have an excuse that the unicorn is here, we have a setting and a cause. However we need to surround this unicorn with facts that are normal and settings that are real. The more this setting is established the more believable the unicorn becomes. The unicorn is found at the start of the story by a homeless man in an abandoned and condemned building. The building he has slept in every night for the past ten years. He knows every crack in the concrete, every plank to avoid. This building becomes in it’s own place a character in the story, there by surrounding the unicorn in a more believable encoding for the reader to now begin to accept.
To finish we need to make the unicorn itself a fact. How do we do this? We’ve given it an excuse to exist in our world, we found it with a character we can all imagine in a setting we’ve all seen. The homeless man guides the trapped unicorn out of the building, it stops traffic, the demolition team take photos on their phone. Police turn up, doctors, a vet. Now we’ve added authority, this again makes it official. The unicorn is a unicorn in our minds because we witness a police man say “Get a vet or some one down here, there’s a tramp with a fucking unicorn walking down the street!”
To end it, we examine this creature. Again we detail the setting.The vet Now needs a back story, how badly the tramp smells the examination room out, the media in the waiting room (or would he be waiting outside), the certificates of the veterinarian on the wall. All of this makes the process real. Finally the affirmed power of an authority figure who medically and biologically diagnoses our fictional character as a unicorn. Shavings from his horn identified as bone with DNA 92% similar to that of a horse. An X-ray of where the wings attach to the unicorns back. We use all the biological characteristics of a horse, all the medical terms and bingo, our unicorn exists, our readers can believe it now, we’ve embedded the fantastical in a world of facts, without going away from the story. We’ve used it to get to know the vet, the homeless man and the creature itself and now not only is the creature believable, so is the relationships it has with the other characters.
This is how I tried to make my vampires real, I wanted people who aren’t just going to believe it to say ‘okay, the vampires in this story are believable.’ I put them in real places, with real characters, I gave them needs and desires, relationships that were human, victims that were human. I tried to give them a level of setting, an origin and a reason for being there. How well did I do this? Reed it and tell me on my comments page.