In the creative writing class I teach, I repeat to my students what a great professor said to me more than 40 years ago: When you’re working on fiction, you can’t just record what’s actually happening out there. No reader would buy it.
Take the case of a man whose lower legs are amputated before he reaches his first birthday. This man could pursue a career as an accountant, a physician, a green grocer. He determines that he will run track.
He is fitted with prosthetic blades and provokes an international controversy about whether he should be allowed to compete with runners allegedly handicapped because they have feet.
He transcends the Paralympics, competes in the Olympics, and becomes his nation’s most celebrated athlete.
He shoots his girlfriend. She has a law degree and she’s recently been active in the campaign to prevent violence against women. She’s also a model and a budding TV star.
The lead detective in the investigation of the alleged murder presides over the loss of evidence and the contamination of the crime scene. Then, as a witness for the prosecution, he acknowledges that he’s uncovered no reason that people shouldn’t believe the defendant, who says he thought he was gunning down an intruder who’d outfoxed a high-tech security system in a gated community and gained access to the defendant’s toilet. At this point it’s revealed that the detective is being investigated in connection with seven counts of attempted murder.
The calamity created by the prosecution may or may not contribute to the presiding magistrate’s decision to grant the defendant bail.
You are writers, I tell my students, and I hope you are also readers. You should be informed. Read about this shooting and the aftermath. Regard it as tragedy. Regard it as an accident perpetrated by a man determined not only to shoot first and ask questions later, but to shoot three more times as well. Regard it as an especially well-publicized incidence of deadly violence perpetrated by a man against a woman in a world in which such violence is as common as it is heinous.
But don’t write it all down, turn it in next week, and expect anybody to believe it.