“I would hope some of this is consistent with what actually happened,” my friend said as we stood to stretch our legs during the intermission of Jersey Boys.
If you haven’t seen it, Jersey Boysrecounts the founding and rise to fame of 60s sensation, The Four Seasons. As the story is told on Broadway, the Four Seasons’ song lyrics were a soundtrack for their life story. Did the events of their lives inspire the songs? Or was their story molded to fit the songs?
My friend’s comment followed on the heels of a discussion of writing historical fiction at the Iowa Summer Writing Festivalthis past week. How close do you have to stay to the facts? Is it only an issue if you’re dealing with famous people? Is it morally acceptable to create a fictional story around real people?
The consensus at the Writing Festival was that you can create fiction for real people as long as what you write doesn’t conflict with the known facts. If an historical figure is known to have been in New York on a certain date and you write them into a scene in Tahiti on that date – problem. If two historical figures are known to have met from time to time and you create a fictional love affair between them – not a problem.
Much of what looks like facts is often our perspective in any case. Toward the end of Jersey Boys, the characters who play the Four Seasons make this abundantly clear as each of them takes center stage and tells ‘what really happened’ from their own perspectives.
So it was a good show, a good story, and stirring music. And none of it conflicted with the known facts.