Make the Unreal Seem Real
A fine writer is often a fine story teller. They have the ability to make the unreal seem real. I have written countless stories that were my attempt to make the unreal seem real. I remember writing a story about a Roman galleon captain who lived during the first century AD who meets the Apostle Paul when he was in Spain who becomes a Christian. He sails his ship west across the Atlantic and he and his crew become settlers in North America. Some crew members travel out to the Pacific Coast with one traveling to Alaska where he was killed by a bear. I based the story on stories I had heard about possible Roman travlers that came here. A pot of Roman coins was found in New England over half a century ago and some tribe in the American Southwest is reported to have rituals and symbols similar to Christian ones. I wrote a story that explained both pieces of information. A friend of mine at the monthy writing club meeting I attend regularly thought my story sounded like it actually happened and wanted to bring a copy of the story home for her husband to read since he likes history. But since it was just a story, I didn’t know if he would appreciate it since it was based on conjecture.
I’ll give three story examples. The first one takes place in Indiana over half a century ago.
One night, a farmer saw a light descend in the woods at the back of his property. He investigated the mystery the next day and saw a 30-foot saucer in a clearing in the wooded area and a metal “thing” that was walking around it. He said he was spo scared that he doesn’t remember clearing the fence between the woods and his house.
He had a photographer from the Warsaw Times Union come out to his property to take pictures. In the newspaper the next day on the front page was a picture of a pad print of the saucer and a square footprint of the thing that walked around it.
Here’s the second story:
My family loved to go to lakes and ponds in Indiana and fish. I usually didn’t catch fish that were larger than a fish fillet. But one day when I was fishing from the shore of a lake we had frequented I hooked into something that gave a huge pull when I tried to reel it in. I thought at first it might be a submerged log because it felt so heavy. But it was putting up a fight.
I struggled for maybe ten minutes trying to reel the thing in. But eventually I brought it up. My dad saw I was struggling, so he walked over to where I was fishing and used his fishing net to scoop a two-foot catfish out of the water. I was really excited because I thought it was a monster. Mom gutted and cleaned it when we got home and the next night at dinner we had bluegills, bass, and the catfish I had caught the afternoon before.
Here’s the third story:
I always liked to attend “Star Trek” conventions when I lived in New York State. There were a number of celebrities that came to speak and sign autographs. One of them was the science fiction writer Isaac Assimov. I even got my picture taken with him.
I walked up to the table where he was signing autographs and had him sign the program for the convention. I told him that his three laws of robotics wouldn’t work in the real world because they would make good killing machines. He didn’t like to hear that. A few years later, “Terminator” came out in the theaters and he saw I was correct.
One of those stories never happened. But I wrote it hopefully convincingly enough to seem true. I’ll reveal which one is fictional at the end of this blog posting. I began writing when I was in elementary school in North Manchester, Indiana. I loved having the “Weekly Reader” every now and then present two pictures that were to inspire young writers to write stories about one of the pictures. One day there was a picture of neighborhood kids building a spaceship. That inspired me to write a story based on the TV show “The Invaders” about aliens landing on earth and only one man knew they existed because they had the nasty habit of turning into ashes when people got too close to them. Roy Thinness played the man that knew the truth about them.
In my story, the invaders had captured him and somehow he escaped and had evidence they existed. But still no one believed him. It was a simple story with simple action and a simple conclusion. I was only in third grade at the time and wasn’t a sophisticated literary technician.
I had a friend that loved to tell stories. I credit him for getting me to become inventive and a capable story teller. I gave him drawings of devices because he claimed he had connectons with Washington that wanted various ideas. When I talked with his sister and asked her what he did with the drawings, she told me they were cluttering his walls in his bedroom. He even made me believe quartz gravel in the driveway was pirate treasure that they had dropped on the way to where they buried their treasure chests. I believed him and stuffed my pants pockets with quartz rocks. When my teacher asked me why I had all the rocks in my pockets I told her that my friend told me it was pirate treasure.
He kept telling people stories up until he was an adult. I gave him a story that he said he sent off to Hollywood to be made into a TV script. I even got a call that supposedly was from Universal Studios that was producing the TV show “Night Gallery.” The caller told me Rod Serling liked the story that I titled “The Door” based in part on the opening of “The Twilight Zone” that featured a door being shattered like a window and Serling saying, “We unlock this door with the key of imagination.” In my story I had three boys discovering a door in the attic of an abandoned house. Each one walked through the door and became what he wanted to become.
The first boy became the president of a big company. As he was dicating a letter to his secretary, a union head threatened to have his workers go on strike. A train derailed, a mine had a cave-in, and more trouble was ahead. He decided he didn’t want to be a company president.
The second boy walked through the door and ended up in Africa where he was going to hunt down and kill a rogue elephant the next day. He had a bearer, a jeep, and an elephant gun. When he and his bearer left the jeep and approached the elephant, the wind shifted and they had to run for their lives. The bearer drove the jeep away and left the kid to die. The kid saw the door in a tree and reached it before the elephant coul trample him to death. He went home, told his mom what happened, and she told him not to tell anyone because no one would believe him even though he had a safari outfit and elephant gun.
The thrd boy walked through the door and ended up in South Vietnam. It was 1971, so the war was going on over there. The boy flew a fighter plane over North Vietnam on a mission and shot down a Mig. But before he could fly back to the base he was shot down and killed. His body was brought back to the United States and two Air Force officers told his mom what happened. She couldn’t believe it because he was only 12. But the men told her he had a plane and was on a mission and actually died. Then the door vanished from the attic.
It would have made a great episode on “Night Gallery.” But since my friend wasn’t an agent, they couldn’t produce the story. I wasn’t ready to write full time since I was only in high school at the time. Years later, my friend told someone the wrong story and was arrested and sent to prison for soliciting. I’ve gone on to be a published author with hopes of having my books made into movies and TV programs maybe by Universal.
Writers like to stretch the truth as if they are stuffing a 500-pound couch potato into spandex. The ones that are good at it can easily stuff the fatties into exercise suits. But some story tellers shouldn’t try to manipulate facts or try to convince people what isn’t real is real. They are the ones that should stick with the facts that can be proven.
But for people with an imagination, story telling should come naturally. If it is an effort to tell a story that is believable, maybe you should write fantasies and fairy tales. When a write science fiction, I try to make it sound plausible. Even though many of my ideas might not become reality for decades, I try to write about them as accurately as possible. When I write about being in the cockpit of a flying car, I want the reader to picture himself in the seat moving the controls to make it fly like a UFO that uses a field displacement engine to glide silently through the air at hypersonic speed. I don’t know if that will be how drivers will drive their cars in the future 100,000 feet above the ground. But it sounds good.
Continuity helps story tellers keep things straight. I use notes on the characters I write about to make sure I don’t have Fred becoming Steve five pages later. If he doesn’t know how to speak Russian on page 89, he shouldn’t be fluent in the language ten pages later unless he has taken a course in the language or has been given a translation headset in the pages between 89 and 99.
If you want to tell a story, make sure it is worth telling. I’ve had teachers that were as dry as the Sahara Desert when they spoke. Others told stories and instructed students in such a way that you wanted to hear them speak. Text books are good. But personal experience is better much of the time. Story tellers shouldn’t tell stories as if they are writing text books. They should tell stories that people want to hear or read. A boring story teller will lose readers sometimes on page one. A good story teller may hold your attention throughout most of the story. But a great story teller knows how to hold a reader’s attention from page one to THE END even if it is a book the size of an unabridged dictionary. The best ones will prompt readers to re-read their books.
Getting back to the three stories. The second one is false. It is based on what happened to my sister who caught a catfish. But it was only about a foot long. It was still bigger than any fish I have ever caught. But if you believed it was true and maybe the other two stories were false since they sounded fake, fine. The Warsaw Times Union might have the story and pictures in their records on microtape. Assimov is dead. But I have the picture of him with me somewhere.
The big difference between a story teller and a liar is that story tellers admit their stories are made up but they hope the readers might think they are true or might become true in the future. Liars too often convince themselves that their stories are true and hope readers are gullible enough to believe them too. Be a story teller because my friend was too often a liar and paid the price for his attempted deception.