Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
I spotted this item via Stumbleupon the other day, and it jogged me into wondering whether we really expect biopics, historical films, and “based on a true story” stories to hew to reality. More often than not, the screenwriter seems to use the true story or the famous life merely as a jumping-off point for a dramatic tale. Case in point, the Alan Turing movie, The Imitation Game, which was widely criticized for the way it dealt with Turing’s death. The writer must have thought, I don’t give a shit what really happened; the story is better this way.
The six movies in this list only confirm our suspicions. I was especially blown away by The King and I! Who knew?
They should have added A Beautiful Mind to the list, and probably every musical biopic from the past few years, fictionalizing the lives of everyone from Johnny Cash to Jimi Hendrix. Sometimes the real life just doesn’t cut it.
I bring this up in part because it looks like my next book is going to be a historical novel set in the Sierra foothills in the 1880s. Many readers will probably say, Nothing like this could ever have happened. Especially not then, and not there. It’s about a utopian colony established and populated exclusively by women.
But I say, for the purposes of story-telling, time and place are like a painter’s use of color and texture. You can be somewhat believable while stretching reality enough to do something different. You can give the reader clues that this isn’t meant to be read as a history but rather as a fable. And you can also shrug and say, Some people are going to get it, and they’re the ones I’m talking to.
It is a little bold, though, to take a real person’s life and rewrite it. Hollywood has a carte blanche that us lowly writers can’t hope to benefit from, so let’s be careful out there!