Albert E. once said, “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.” I think about that quote almost every time someone asks me about my fiction. “I can’t believe you went through what you did!” readers will say after finishing A Father’s Son. “Your dad seemed like a really good person at heart. I’m sorry it ended the way it did.”
“Whoa whoa whoa!” I’ll say. “Hold the teletype machine. It’s a work of fiction.”
“Oh,” the person will reply, like this has unlocked some convoluted mystery for them even though it says “A NOVEL” right below the title on the cover of the book. “So is it based on truth?”
I was reminded of this anecdote recently when doing some background research on one of my favourite books, The Count of Monte Cristo. I think it goes without saying that Alexandre Dumas was one of the great writers of the 19th century and is a formidable presence in the Western canon of literature. However, the Count was essentially a retelling of what happened in real life to Pierre Picaud. Today, nobody remembers who this Pierre fellow was, but most people can tell you they’ve heard of Monte Cristo, either as the page-turning story of revenge or as a fried sandwich.
What was Dumas’ secret? Keeping his secret a secret! Journalists do it every day in the name of “exposing the truth.” Artists have been doing it since the beginning of time. The fact of the matter is this: No person is an island. We’re influenced and impacted by the events that unfold around us. The key to genius – at least artistically – is how to shape these events in such a way that makes them relatable and enjoyable and inspiring.
I think I’ll keep that in mind this morning as I return to my current work in progress and write about events and people that aren’t real, but will hopefully come across as completely believable to the reader.