Fact vs. Fiction

HilroyThe first time I remember sitting down to write outside of school, I was nine and I filled an 80-page Hilroy spiral-bound notebook from front to back. It was purple and I wrote with a red pen.

It took time to fill those lined pages, one after the other, and I distinctly remember the satisfaction of reaching the last page and relishing the act of writing in large, bold and sloppy print: “THE END”.

The story I wrote was part-Lizzie McGuire episode, part-Mary-Kate and Ashley movie. I thought I was going to be on Oprah. The next thing I remember was standing in front of my sister’s bookcase and running my index finger along the queue of paperback spines, thinking, “Hmm. I can do that.” Write a book, I meant. I can write a book.

It was always books. Long, detailed accounts that needed beginnings and middles and ends. Characters had to have pasts. They had to live on after the closing sentence. I was hooked on the journey of world-building and character creation.

At first, my stories read like plays. I set each scene with a few sentences, a caption, or a block of character directions. Then I wrote dialogue, each line following a character’s name and a colon. I wrote in blue ink, red ink, colourful gel pen ink. I scribbled and babbled and shaped horribly melodramatic tales of teen love or rip-offs of every adventure movie I had ever watched. Stranded in the Brazilian jungle—memory loss story (duh). Study towers in the middle of the ocean—young woman must confront the shark which killed her father (no kidding). Students lost in the woods without parents or teachers—more than one of the students are evil (yes way).

The first time I decided to include narration, to actually write something that resembled a novel, I was 12. A book about seven brothers and sisters, which turned into seven individual books (of course). Then there was a book about a girl who is forced to go to Ireland for the summer and dates the future King of Ireland???—that’s not even a thing. But I kept going. Figure skaters. Detention camps. Rich kids. Troubled kids. Girls and boys, and boys and girls. New York City. There was a book about a 15-year-old girl who had no parents and five brothers. And a book about an 18-year-old who had both parents and five sisters. Both. Involved. The mafia (mic drop). The first time I used first-person narration, I was 15 and I decided I would be a special government agent, tasked with protecting a recuperating kidnapping victim. Yes, I decided to be a 35-year-old man.

It wasn’t until I was 17 when I wrote something important. Important to me, important to my writing life. I had graduated from high school. My grandfather had recently past away. It had been six years since my father was paralyzed after a stroke. I had been filling notebooks, printer paper and file folders with stories, and stories nothing like my own. But that summer, I wrote about a young man who lost his grandfather, set in a town on the mainland across from his treasure island.

The countryside where I grew up groomed every page. Ferries and tall grass and lakeside views. College towns and farms and wide-open spaces. Music and old photographs and regrets and dreams. I listened to Johnny Flynn on repeat and I wandered around the make-believe/ real-life places, which welded into one world where so many of the characters I carve today still live.

I will always be grateful for the old stories. Because without them I wouldn’t have been able to write the new ones.

Never stop writing the adventurous, the outlandish, the romantic. Write them forever. I do. There’s been a dystopian future novel cooking in my laptop since I was 18—I won’t deny it. These stories may never be read by anyone other than myself, but they need to be told.

Today I have come to love mixing fact with fiction, and I hope I always will. I won’t say that I’ve learned all there is to know about writing a story. Because when I was that 12-year-old girl with a purple gel pen and a purple Hilroy notebook, I said, “I’ll never write narration, narration is so overrated.” And when I was that 15-year-old girl I said, “I’ll never write about myself, forget about writing what you know.” So, now, as a 25-year-old young woman, I sit with a pencil and a green 3-subject Hilroy notebook and say, “I can write anything I want to write.”