Sandra Worth said fictional is easier because she has the freedom to take pieces of people who existed, and then do what she wants. It’s like a diving board; climbing the ladder is doing the research and diving into the water is the writing.
They discussed what to do when there isn’t much information available about a real person. Donna Woolfolk Cross called this a “skeleton story”; the novel has to put flesh on an obscure topic.
If you want to know more, scroll down and highlight the white space under “Spoiler Alert.”
She felt having a character who isn’t well known gives the writer a lot of freedom.
The moderator asked, “When you have to create a character from scratch, what do you look to create? What facts do you need?”
Karleen Koen said, “I look for someone who is believable to me. In the first draft, characters feel like cartoons who need to be filled in. I’m always looking for an outward story and an inward story that captures me. If it captures me, I just trust that it will capture you. It’s important to give the character flesh and blood with flaws and virtues. I have to think of what facts were going around that I can use, but for me, I just want the person to feel real and have problems like I have problems.”
An audience member asked about fudging facts.
Chris Gortner said if you can’t make something completely true, at least make it plausible. Don’t fudge so much that you end up with an alternative history.
Sandra Worth said, “I don’t call it ‘fudging.’ I call it ‘fiction.’” Everyone chuckled.
SPOILER ALERT (highlight white space)
All sources agree that Joan died in childbirth. Donna said, “The obvious question is, who knocked her up?” If anyone discovered Pope Joan was a woman she would have been killed, so there’s no way her affair was just a casual sexual encounter. It would only make sense if she and her lover had a deep, romantic relationship. Her pregnancy – a tiny fact in history books – helped Cross make educated guesses about Joan’s character and her life.
If you haven’t read that book yet, I highly recommend it.