Monday, March 22, 2010

Making Sh*t Up

Here's a topic of conversation for you all out there: how do you feel about making up historical figures for works of fiction? In addition to making up an African nation for At Home and Abroad, I'm about to embark on a new project that would involve making up a civil rights era figure. Sometimes I feel a little silly about these things. But they're often necessary.

What about you? How do you feel about creating alternate histories and historical figures? How do you feel when you see a play and there's a figure who is obviously a stand-in or composite for a real world figure? Does it bug you? Do you notice or care?


lucia said...

Personally, I'm furious when history is embellished or blatantly ignored AND the changes are not acknowledged anywhere, e.g.,in the program. We're all so ignorant of history, it's so easy to make something up - I just feel that then you have to come clean somewhere where I as audience can find it. E.g., a dreadful play about Ramanujan that had him working on Fermat's last theorem - just because it was in the news at the time - and the playwright (in talk back) did not apologize when forced to admit this was fiction. About an great thinker who had devoted his life to another question. Yet I suspect the same person would not have written a play about Beethoven and substituted Brahms because he was in the news at the time....I'm not sure if that story is relevant to inventing a new character but I do feel that if there is no way for the audience to know if it is fact or fiction, then it's neither fish nor fowl (no, actually, foul). My strongly held opinion, anyway.

Ian Thal said...

Alternate histories should always be clearly identifiable as such by any but the most reality-challenged audience members.

As for historical fiction: For me it depends on the political agenda of the author. If the intent is merely create an archetypical character (or community) that would have been found in milieu, then I'm all for it.

If it's a matter of the author deliberately falsifying history in order to create a propaganda piece, then I consider that a breach of ethics.

If it's a matter of the author being too lazy to engage in the most basic of research, then I'm going to be annoyed.

99 said...

Where does artistic license come in? Or what they do on shows like Law & Order? Or All The King's Men, creating a figure inspired by Huey Long? I'm not so much thinking about altering a real person's history as replacing them with a fictional character.

Ian Thal said...

With Law & Order (at least as well as I recall-- I haven't watched the show in years) they often portray a case that's similar to one recently in the news but then introduce some plot twist that makes it clear that this is a work of fiction and not a dramatization of real life events. Nothing unethical there.

I generally don't have a problem with inserting fictional characters into history, or replacing historical characters with clearly fictitious analogues (since by doing so, the author makes it clear that we're not viewing a dramatization of real events.)

The problem is when fiction is presented as historical fact or dramatization of historical facts-- and it doesn't sound like you're doing that, J.