As I work on my outline for my 2nd novel (NaNoWriMo is here soon!), I am pondering how far a writer should go for authenticity. My first novel, Phoenix Rock, is still in play, as I drag myself inch by inch through re-writes. It was a nightmarish soap opera by the end, with a dysfunctional family perpetuating murder and mayhem. It started out as a character study. Obviously I got a little bored with it and felt compelled to kill off a few characters.
I was excited about my second novel – less angst and more fun. Wanda Q and a Spoonful of Justice has all the hallmarks of being an imitative Confederacy of Dunces – only not as funny or literate. I realized these things, after I started outlining chapters – a theme emerged and I smacked myself in the forehead. I’ve read something like this before. But no worries – without John Kennedy Toole’s talent, persistent mother and tragic end, I will survive to write an unpublished, poorly written wannabe counterfeit.
My first novel dealt with alcoholism, OCD, depression, domestic violence – all subjects woven into my life experience. It’s not autobiographical, but typical of a new writer, not straying too far from personal knowledge. My intent for a second novel was to write the novel I wanted to write, not the one I felt compelled to write.
The theme of vigilante justice has always interested me. And why wouldn’t it? Sometimes in this world, we see little evidence of true justice, true karma in play. Maybe we are just too myopic to see the big picture. Maybe in the end, the score card leans heavily on the side of fairness. I really don’t know. My main character doesn’t see justice at work. She simmers with quiet suburban rage about the daily indignities of modern living, until the proverbial straw that gives birth to a vigilante.
The thing is, I don’t know how she’ll do it. She needs skills – many of which I do not have. Will the NSA start tracking me if I keep looking up articles on lock picking, tasers and wiretapping? Would the police show up after I’m spotted trying to pick locks into my own house? Would they list me as a person of interest, if I stopped by the station and started asking about procedures? How far do I need to go for authenticity? Do I go all “Daniel Day Lewis” or do I just read a lot and watch YouTube videos?
To be honest, I’m going for six of one and half a dozen of the other. I’ll try a lock or two and learn the difference between a Taser X2 and X26. Maybe I’ll have a conversation with the community liasion officer. Other than that, I’m going to do what a million writers before me have done – use my imagination. Fortunately, the book will be full of mishaps – then I’ll be writing what I know.
If you’re a writer, how far do you go to make your work authentic?
As a general fiction reader, is the devil in the details?