“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”
-- from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, screenplay
by James Warner Bellah and Willis Goldbeck
Facts to the storyteller -- unlike what plainclothes detective Joe Friday to the right needs -- are meant to be manipulated. Need to wipe out Hitler and Goering and some other rat fink scum suckers at a Nazi propaganda film showing in Vichy France as in Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards? Done. Make Abraham Lincoln, the Great Emancipator a stove pipe hat wearing, bad ass ax-wielding vampire slayer, and have Jefferson Davis, the father of the Confederacy sign a pact with these blood suckers…no problem. Create this near-mythical tribute statute said to be encrusted with rubies and emeralds, and have some greedy jackanapes willing to lie, cheat, steal and murder to posses this fabled object as in the granddaddy of all detective novels, the Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett. On it.
Now the one thread that runs through these three storylines, ranging as they do from the fantastic anti-histories to the fatalistic, is they use certain facts to construct their stories. Be it the Civil War, the Nazi regime or the Knight Templars, these are actual people and events. These facts help to moor their tales in a reality we recognize, while also warping that reality to tell the story the writer intended for the reader or the viewer. Given that, there are generally other facts, details in particular, that the writer will adhere to keep that mooring secure.
In Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, book and movie, the types of guns and uniforms of the Civil War soldiers are portrayed as they were; no .45 semi-autos of Tommy guns showed up – though sometimes anachronisms are used in stories of this type. Inglorious Bastards was a wish fulfillment romp, but adhered to the technology of that era. In fact one could argue it was because of the flammable nature of physical film at that time that the plotters plan was able ot be carried off successfully. And while there may have been no gold bird statuette paid to the King of Spain as tribute, the notion of such does not strain credulity.
As another example, and more personal to me, in Big Water, this graphic novel Kickstarter project I’m working on (yes, please, click on ‘Big Water’ and see more about it) involving who owns the water we drink, there is no town in Southeast Los Angeles called Bell Park. But there have been news reports about corruption in that part of the county in towns like Bell and Cudahy. There have also been pitched struggles in municipalities in the Southland and elsewhere over whether to privative a city’s water and wastewater system. Then there’s the crazy money bottle products like infused and coco water make – water it costs pennies to extract and once you slap a label on it, get some sexy spokesmodels to pimp, er promote it, billions can be raked in.
Do these facts make their way in the fictional story, you doggone right they do. But the intent is to use the facts as context and undergirding to a story that is about betrayal and desire, loss and redemption. You know, the good stuff. Because nothing bogs down a story more than unloading the facts you’ve learned in your research. Most research isn’t employed but you never know anecdotally what you’ll uncover in the facts, so the facts must be compiled but distilled judiciously in your work – like a fine bottle of chilled fizzy water.
As Casper Gutman observed to Sam Spade in the Maltese Falcon, some facts are subject to interpretation, but they remain facts as we understand them and that they have a bearing on our actions.
“These are facts, historical facts, not schoolbook history, not Mr. Wells' history, but history nevertheless.”