So, a few days ago I published a blog about the origins of the fantasy world I created for my Land Beyond trilogy (see: Terra-forming a Fantasy World), and my wife’s reaction was both resounding and damning...
“What do you mean by peeling paint and cracked ceilings?”
“Ah…” I replied.
“What are people going to think about where we live?”
“Hmm…well…” I floundered.
“There’s nothing wrong with the painting in that room.”
“Cracked ceilings and peeling paint, really?” She shook her head and walked away in something approaching disgust.
“Artistic licence?” I mumbled after her, as she disappeared into the (perfectly decorated) kitchen.
Artistic licence? Creative licence? Narrative aggrandising? Call it what you like, it got me thinking. How far do we bend the truth when we tell a tale? When does embellishment become an out and out lie? And does it ever really matter?
I’m not talking about fiction versus reality. Obviously, as a writer of fiction – and not only fiction but fantasy fiction – I freely admit that everything I write is a lie, but a lie that (hopefully) works within the (fake) realities I create. Without getting too ‘meta‘ about this, and getting tangled in an entirely different thread altogether, as a writer I find the idea of ‘artistic licence’ fascinating, and how it comes into play - often without us realising - fascinating.
Not based on any research or scientific evidence, I’m going to come right out and say it: everyone embellishes, everyone tweaks the truth. It’s in our nature. When we're at work, when we're at the pub, when we're chatting with friends, we all tell stories. Whether we’re relating a humorous incident, recalling a dramatic event or even telling a joke, our perception is unique, and in spinning the yarn we make that yarn our own. We add details, we ramp up the drama, we introduce intrigue and humour all to tell stories that engage our audience. It’s part of what makes us story tellers. It’s part of what makes us human.
So, let’s revel in taking the liberties that artistic and creative licence permits. It’s the difference between saying that you saw someone trip over the kerb while you were walking home and…
OK, so this really happened, no joke of a lie. I was walking along behind this guy and he was staring at his phone. He was texting or surfing the web or watching a YouTube vid, I don’t know what, but anyway…so, he was really focused, and people were passing left and right, but he didn’t notice, he was so engrossed. I could see him, and he was maybe 20 feet ahead. And he was walking and watching and walking and watching, when I spotted this old dear and her pet dog. It was one of those tiny yappy things. What are they called? Chihuahua? Shih Tzu? Anyway, it isn’t important. So, this old lady she’s turned away from her dog and she’s talking to this other women and the dog is wandering across the pavement – it’s on one of those extendable leads – and it’s sniffing around a lamp post and it’s wrapped the lead around it. So, picture the scene…The old lady is talking to her friend and not paying attention. The dog is sniffing the lamp post and not paying attention. The guy is totally sucked into his phone not paying attention. And I can just see how everything is going to play out. So I shout out to warn him, but he doesn’t hear, then it’s like everything is running in slow motion. I watch as the guy reaches the lead and I wait for him to crash and burn…but things don’t play out the way I think. He trips over the lead, and – this is the honest truth – and instead of falling on his face, he tucks his shoulder down, falls into a snap roll like he’s the action lead in some James Cameron film, jumps to his feet and continues on his way, like nothing happened. And get this…he didn’t even drop his phone!
Artistic licence and story. You can’t have one without the other.
Addendum 1. For the sake of my wife, the ceiling probably wasn’t particularly cracked, and the paint was likely not peeling to any noticeable extent, but I was trying to describe the cartography of a fantasy land writ large on a child’s bedroom ceiling, so some exaggeration was bound to come into play.
Addendum 2. The exchange related at the beginning didn’t really occur exactly like that…but you probably already realised that.