I’m fascinated by prison. The idea of being locked up, handcuffed, possibly assaulted, all beyond your will…it’s terrifying. Not surprisingly, prison plays a big role in The Conduct Series, my romantic suspense trilogy. My favorite cons, Grant and Sophie, are just starting their parole at the beginning of the series.
As my friend Janine commented on a chapter from my work in progress On Best Behavior (The Conduct Series Book 3), the question about authenticity in fiction novels struck me. In striving to create authentic worlds for our characters, do we risk confusing the reader? How “real” should our stories be?
I have another friend who’s a psychologist at a prison, and I recently consulted with her about life on the inside. She kindly shared some slang from the women’s prison:
Inmate = “Offender”
Corrections Officer = “Police”
Other cell block = “Across the street”
When I wrote a female inmate telling my main character Sophie that “police” escorted “offenders” “across the street”, reader Janine astutely wondered why county police would take inmates outside the prison. Once the manuscript is complete, I have confidence my lovely editors will swoop in and ensure the terminology makes sense to the reader, but for now I ponder how authentic the prison culture should be in my novels.
At times I purposely choose not to be authentic in order to improve the story.
There are quite a few therapy scenes in the series, and I feel more comfortable portraying the psychological world due to my day job. Therapy can be dramatic and insightful, but it can also be plodding and quite frankly boring, and I don’t want to put my reader to sleep by portraying the mundane with complete accuracy. The wonderful HBO series In Treatment depicted each therapy client as intensely challenging and dramatic, and real life therapy is just not that way. (Thank goodness! I’d rather not have clients regularly seduce me, attempt suicide in my office, or buy me elaborate gifts).
Real life conversations are also meandering, full of starts and stops. As writers we choose to drop all the “um’s, likes, what’s?” to create more interesting, active dialogue between our characters.
Authors, how authentic do you try to be in building your fictional worlds?
Readers, how authentic do you want your stories to be?
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