The Telling of True Life Tales – Part I
Guest Blog (c) Nick Abadzis 2022
“Based on a true story”
“Inspired by real events”
“Based on the book by…”
How often have you seen words like those at the beginning of a film or TV series and asked yourself, “I wonder how much of this is true?” Or perhaps you watched a “biopic” movie of somebody famous and wondered, “Did that really happen to them?”
True events are witnessed and are recorded – this is history. History is the present. As mundane as our own surroundings may sometimes appear, history happens all around us in a world teeming with events on which we can train an ever greater amount of recording instruments.
Modern times and the recent yesterdays of the living are one thing, but at what point does the contemporary cross the frontier into the bygone and then into antiquity? Every generation may have its own perceptions of course, but looking back, deeper into time and recorded human history, I see a terminator shadow. It’s a line at which the daylight of living memory borders the dusk of the stories of both the recently deceased and the ancient dead.
The story of nomadic ancient humans, until they began leaving artefacts and ruins behind for later generations to study, was oral, passed down generationally, and it’s from that vast, tidal pool of spoken word storytelling that the world’s myths and legends developed. The gods and spirits of the landscape and the seas were a way of comprehending the natural world. Mythologies were an elemental lexicon consisting of earth, air, fire and water and also of the unseen, the human imagination; the spiritual and the divine – the idea that there is much more to this existence than what we perceive with our five, mortal senses.
Humankind is obsessed with its own place in the world and whether we celebrate the adventures of mythical hunter-gatherers, ancient warrior queens, dragon slayers or the first men landing on the Moon, the intent is similar – to comprehend and celebrate our own achievements and our place in nature. We bear witness to ourselves via the mechanisms of storytelling and arguably, all the stories we tell have some element of truth in them.
That is, not necessarily a consensual, widely-held truth, not empirical scientific truth, but an “emotional truth” – a sense that there’s a kernel of wisdom at the core of a story, something authentic and legitimate that either animates the make-believe or honours real-life, real world accomplishments.
Fiction and fantasy are the domains where our imaginations have free reign. Both depend on the rules you invent or abide by for your own invented universe. Telling – or, to be precise, retelling tales from true life experiences requires a different mindset. The lens through which we view history is at least as important as the choice of events we choose to spotlight. If the witnesses to events are no longer alive, there will always be a degree of interpretation, and via that translation and inevitable dramatisation, there is sometimes also an impulse to mythologise.
Via all our highly-evolved modern storytelling apparatus, it’s easy to transmute true stories into modern day folk tales. A myth is constructed, whether its bricks are built of the raw materials of real experience mixed with symbols and something more fantastical yet. A real life tale is a record of sorts, sometimes embroidered and elaborated upon, but still an account of events that actually occurred.
I believe that it’s very important to honour the past, the lives our forebears and ancestors lived, as we stand upon their shoulders. Their stories are our bedrock. To that end, research should be exhaustive, and any storyteller worth their salt should both want to get inside the heads and hearts of their subjects and the conditions they lived under and present any findings in as objective and accurate a way as possible. In terms of the actual dramatising of events, there are inevitably some liberties to be taken, but aiming for a sense of authenticity is essential.
The telling of a true, real-life tale, no matter how recent or however ancient (and if records allow!) will always benefit from in-depth research. Look for the truth behind the words, the facts behind the anecdotal, separate evidence and actuality from fable. That’s the measure of any real life tale “based on true events.”
In September, watch out for our anniversary issue and an awesome competition to create your own comic strip! Nick will be sharing some insights on the creation and the telling of his own “true-life” tale, the hugely successful graphic novel Laika, published in 2007 and still in print!