Many of my closest friends are liars. But they might prefer the title storyteller extraordinaire. Tale-weavers. And whether the literary yarn they spin is set in an actual place or based upon real life events and historical characters, they are authors of fiction. I am too. And as novelists, we have chosen to write fiction, not fact. But even so, is the story we weave truly and completely made up?
Not the best stories. All compelling fiction resonates with readers. Why? Because the best stories are rich in truth.
Why has Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell camped on bestsellers’ lists? Why has it inspired movies and spin-offs? Why is Gone with the Wind a classic? Because the story told the truth. Even though Scarlett’s tale wasn’t necessarily formed in actual
reality, the setting and characters, action and themes offer a tapestry
of honesty that can make a work of fiction feel more real, at times,
than life itself.
those four central threads of fiction, I try to create an honest story
world and premise that will provide a platform for truth and deepen the realness of my fiction.
As the backdrop for the action, the setting anchors a story in a specific time and place. How can setting add truth to fiction?
and I are affected by the location in which we find ourselves. We react
to our setting on physical, emotional, mental, and perhaps even a
spiritual level. Sometimes we’re aware of our reactions. At other times they take place in our subconscious.
Where is your story set? At a plantation in Georgia?
Tell me more.
it’s Tara, a cotton plantation Scarlett’s father named after the Hill
of Tara, once the capital of the High King of ancient Ireland.
Through the Civil War and into the reconstruction period.
more like it. The time period in which a story unfolds has everything
to do with the setting. And that’s true whether it plays out in a
historical time and place or whether it’s contemporary. Setting isn’t limited to a pin on a map, but
also provides a cultural, social, and political context in which the
characters act, interact, and react. Consider the West Coast of America
in contrast to the South. Ireland in the1600s and the USA in that same
time period. What about settings where women are finally able to vote?
And post 9/11? These events will be considered and remembered
differently, depending upon the setting and
situation in which the characters experience them.
That’s something an author has to consider . . . what is the main character’s surface and gut-level reaction to the details and fullness of their setting? A
clearly defined setting will impact their characters, and, consequently
us as readers because we will recognize honesty in the setting.
My Sinclair Sisters of Cripple Creek Series
is set in a mining camp in Colorado in the late 1890s. There are many
truths intrinsic to that specific time and place—the culture of the Wild
West mining camps. Ore fever, most definitely. Prostitutes, certainly.
And hardships in varying sizes and shapes.
O’Hara was fake only when she chose to be to serve her purposes.
Otherwise, she was one of the most “real” characters we’ll find in
literature. An individual through and through, Scarlett was bathed in
the truth of human nature—replete with strengths and weaknesses,
self-centered pursuits and dogged determination in the company of
tragedy. A character’s inner conflict is what invokes honesty.
Mitchell imbued Scarlettt, a multi-dimensional character, with a
clearly defined goal—to win Ashley’s heart, and then to save Tara and
win Rhett Butler back. We watched Scarlett’s desires unfold and change
and deepen, along with the setting in which she found herself.
does an author draw truth out of a character? We saw it with Scarlet.
It’s through the fascination and friction inherent in human
relationships (fictional ones included) that reveals true character. And
that’s true whether those secondary characters are love interests,
antagonists, sidekicks, or mentors. They provide a means for readers
like you and I to see the main character’s vulnerabilities and
I plan a story, I have to determine what it is that my main characters
want? What must he or she achieve or overcome? Why? Where lies their
motivation? What is at risk if he or she doesn’t meet their goal? What
will happen if their objective changes?
Two Brides Too Many
tells the story of Kat and Nell, two sisters who came out west from
Portland, Maine as mail order brides. What drove them to make that
choice? In Too Rich for a Bride,
Ida the oldest Sinclair sister arrived in Cripple Creek with the dream
of being a businesswoman. What planted that dream in her?
If I “flesh out” the character and her journey and outcome, I find myself writing truth in
story consists of a series of actions inspired by a character’s goal
and motivation, driven by his or her interactions with others, and
deepened by the roadblocks they face, which may in part be inherent to
the setting they find themselves in.
For instance, Two Brides Too Many
is set in a mining camp on the southwestern slopes of Pikes Peak in
1896. In that time period, most of those towns were still made of wood.
Those that were, went up in flames at least once and, most of them, many
times before the town’s people chose to rebuild using brick and stone.
Kat Sinclair encounters one of those fires in Cripple Creek, which
serves as a key plot point in her journey, fueling action on her part
and on the secondary characters with whom she interacts.
plotting is the action a character takes to overcome the obstacles and
work through the conflict that stands in the way of him or her reaching
their goal. Gone with the Wind is resplendent with such action.
want my readers to discover truth about themselves, the world, God, and
others as they relate to and interact with my characters. The theme
provides the walk-away value in the story. What central truth do I want
my readers to recognize in the setting, the characters, and the action
and take with them when they close my book?
job then is to develop my characters fully and allow them to struggle
naturally and passionately, letting my theme emerge out of the
“realness” of the characters’ situations.
Margaret Mitchell didn’t break into the story to tell us the themes of Gone with the Wind. Through setting, characters, and action, she showed us triumph over tragedy and there is strength in love. In Two Brides Too Many, I showed
God making a way through the wilderness for those who placed their
trust in Him. Ida Sinclair struggles to realize where her true
priorities lie in Too Rich for a Bride. In The Bride Wore Blue, shame nearly suffocates Vivian, the youngest of the four sisters, until she learns that God’s grace is all-sufficient.
The message or moral of a story will only ring true when the characters carry the theme with them on their journey from goal through conflict to resolution.
is the truth in fiction? Yes, it is in the details. But it is birthed
deep within the writer. I’m trying to dig deep to create stories rich in
authentic settings, characters, action, and themes. Thanks for reading!
MONA HODGSON is the author of more than thirty-two books for adults and children, including her popular Sinclair Sisters of Cripple Creek Series—Two Brides Too Many, Too Rich for a Bride, The Bride Wore Blue, and Twice a Bride (October 2012). Her children’s book titles include: Bedtime in the Southwest
and six princess and desert I Can Read books. For more information
about Mona and her books and for Writers Resources, visit her website at
www.monahodgson.com. You can connect with Mona on Twitter and Facebook on her Mona Hodgson Author Page, https://www.facebook.com/Author.Mona.