We are often bandying around the cliché that truth is stranger that fiction. How true is this? In real life, we are enamored by the fascinating range of events, people and their behavior. Yet , when depicted in a story, they can become bizarre, incredible or ridiculous. With typical perversity, the reader will also reject a straightforward story without these elements.
The borderline is very flimsy. Let us take this story. An aged professor of black magic falls in love with his young student who reciprocates the sentiment. They marry. So far so good. It has the dramatic element in the rather unusual combination of old man and young girl. The reader is expecting conflict and crisis as the situation is not normal. It comes – by way of infidelity. The young wife, after a while. Falls in love with a student of her old husband. That‘s the first crisis. The old man comes to know of it through a jealous mischief-maker. He does not know what to do – whether to confront his unfaithful wife or pretend ignorance. That is the conflict. The flow is smooth till here and the reader waits with baited breath for the climax. At this point, the writer crosses the borderline and loses touch with reality. He lets his imagination go wild. The professor, on his supposed trip to his hometown, hides behind a tree in his garden, waiting for his wife’s paramour to visit her and then catch them red handed. He does and then turns them into black cats with the power of his black magic! Obviously, the story writer is a novice, desperately stuck for a credible ending! A true example of how NOT to write stories.
On the other hand, let us take this brilliant story, “Miracle Of The Fifteen Murders”, by Ben Hecht. It is about a group of 14 doctors who meet secretly, calling themselves the ‘X Club’. Every three months, they meet behind closed doors and confess their ‘medical murders’ resulting out of faulty diagnosis and treatment. They discuss and analyze the cases and learn their lesson, through after the patient is dead! For one such meeting, a new member is inducted who looks very tense. The older members, after ‘confessing’ their ‘murders’ and analyzing the case, ask the new entrant to tell them his ‘crime’. The young doctor, sweating profusely, tells them the symptoms of a 17-year-old patient of his who dies because of wrong diagnosis and treatment. The other members, after discussing the symptoms in detail, tell the young doctor. Where he went wrong and what he should have done. Breaking into a smile, the doctor gets up, thanks everyone for their advice as his patient is still alive and hurries to follow the treatment suggested by them! All the members gather around the patient the operation. All’s well! A story written with ease and with abundant imagination yet very credible.
Then, there is a story “Lamb To The Slaughter” by Ronald Dahl. You may not believe it can happen but the author’s imagination is so lively that you are willing to accept it as reality. It is about Mrs. Maloney who kills her husband with a frozen leg of lamb. After that, she quietly goes to the grocers to buy vegetables and meat for dinner and behaves perfectly normal. Reaching home, she calls the police and tells them her husband is dead. Detectives and police come in and she is questioned. No one doubts her and they discuss the possibility of an enemy. Mrs. Maloney, meanwhile, cooks the leg of lamb and in a spirit of hospitality, offers the same to the cops investigating the case and trying look for the murder weapon. Pleased with her gesture, they sit down to a hearty meal of the leg of lamb. Mrs. Maloney giggles in the other room
A master story – teller weaves his plot with imagination but has his eyes firmly fixed on the barometer of credibility. If he wants it let it go berserk, he has an alternative though – he can call his story pure fantasy.