October 25, 2012


Artistic License

Recently, most of my down time (if you can even call it that) has been devoted to writing.  The hours after I come home from work are consumed my book, my blog, or my website.  Last weekend I wanted to take a break and just watch a movie. But even then I found myself drawn to movies about writing.  So instead of fighting it I gave in and picked one of my old favorites, Alex and Emma.  For those of you who don’t know this movie, Luke Wilson is Alex, an author desperately struggling to finish his latest novel so he can repay a gambling debt.  Kate Hudson is Emma, the stenographer he hires to dictate his novel to.  She inevitably becomes involved in the writing process, sometimes to the point of inspiration and more often to the point of irritation.  In many ways it’s your typical romantic comedy.  But it also touches on some crucial aspects of writing and explores the relationship between the author and the reader in a unique way.

One scene in particular got me thinking about artistic license and the blurred boundary lines that authors either loiter about lazily or blatantly cross over with no regard to reality.  Alex is dictating to Emma, setting the scene for where his character is spending the summer.  He calls the island St. Charles, after a neon sign he sees as he looks out the window. He then claims the island was discovered by Jacques Cartier.  This is the dialogue that follows:

Emma: I thought you said you made up the island?
Alex: I did.
Emma: But you just said it was discovered by Jacques Cartier in the 16th century.

Alex: Yeah.
Emma: Jacque Cartier was a real guy.  You can’t have a real guy discover a fake place.
Alex: I can’t?

Emma: No, it’s a version of history.  If you have a fake place you have to have a fake explorer. Now if you have a real place you can have a real explorer.

What do you think?  Is Emma right?  Is an author obligated to choose either reality or fantasy, or are they allowed to dabble back and forth between the two?

My writing experience this week has dealt with artistic license in the form of location.  My story takes place in both California and Massachusetts.  The cities I chose as setting I researched online.  I have never lived there or visited, nor do I have any firsthand experience with them.  I tried to find places that fit the demographics, scenery, and overall spirit I was looking for.  I hope I can remain true to the attitude that a local might have about their hometown.  That being said, I also feel this is the perfect opportunity to use artistic license.  While a major element such as the beach would remain a constant, a more trivial locale such as a mall could be constructed by the mind of the author, even if a mall doesn’t exist there in reality.  If done well, the reader probably doesn’t even know which exist in life and which exist in the mind of the author, unless they really did live in that city.  I personally think artistic license is what adds spice to a story.  Reality has enough clear cut lines and boundaries.  Fiction allows us to abandon reality, cross over the border, and escape to the beach…or the mall.

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