In my writing, I have always strived for attention to detail and realism. With my novel, I take inspiration from my own life and others’, as well as surrounding historical context. For example, I recently thought to use the demolition of the Sands Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City as inspiration for a major part of the second half of my novel. The problem with this is that I become trapped in a lack of imagination.
The hotel was demolished in 2007, and I ended up using that year as a point of reference for my novel’s setting. I used the novel because there was a doo-wop concert that took place in the hotel. Because I lacked imagination, or because I lacked the concept of taking artistic license, I ran into quite a number of problems.
For one, I got caught up with the realism of having the doo-wop concert take place within 24 hours of the demolition. I thought to myself, “I’m sure it takes more than 24 hours to clear out a building for demolition.” And so I spent about an hour wastefully pondering whether it was feasible for me to write the scene in such a way. The truth is that it doesn’t really matter at all whether or not a building demolition would require more than 24 hours to vacate and clear the premises.
Another point that was at odds with strict historical realism. In my novel, I try to convey a certain sense of despair in not being able to enjoy the live music of one’s favorite artists. For that to happen realistically, Mark’s favorite artists need to be either dead or old enough to be retired. In reality, many doo-wop bands—or 50’s bands in general—are still alive. Some of them, like Kenny Vance, still have shows to this day in 2013. One solution would be to set the novel further up in the near future. But because of my adherence to realism, I was stuck on the idea that the story takes place in 2007.
But I completely missed out on the advantage of writing fiction. In fiction, writers can take artistic license. Instead of forcing my narrative to fit into history’s timeline, all I have to do is create my own history in my own fictive world. After all, I’m not trying to write a biography or historical non-fiction. Therefore, I should not be trying to fit a fictional story into a historical time frame.
I was reminded of Vince Gilligan’s appearance on Mythbusters. The Mythbusters debunked the use of hydrofluoric acid in dissolving corpses and burning its way through a bathtub and the floor of a house. They also debunked the use of fulminated magnesium as a throwable explosive device that leaves Walter White theatrically unharmed. Gilligan’s response was one of disappointment. But nevertheless, it doesn’t matter to the viewer whether or not hydrofluoric acid or fulminated magnesium could actually do the things that it did in Breaking Bad. It doesn’t matter because it’s immaterial to the viewer whether it is realistic or not. All that matters is that what happens is within the realm of reason and that it serves a dramatic purpose in the story. After all, is it so far-fetched to believe that acid would eat through a bathtub? Or that there is some form of explosive that can be exploded upon impact? Even so, the bottom line is that the viewer only cares about realism insofar as it serves a dramatic purpose. Gilligan and his writers took some artistic license with chemistry, and it entertained the viewers.
I need to realize that, while I can take inspiration from the real world and its conditions, I stand to gain much more by expanding my mind. Once I stop trying to fit my fiction in to the real world, I think my creativity will begin to flourish some more, and that my writing output will begin to flow again.