The other day I mentioned that I was incorporating a character based on my Aunt Linda, who ran away and joined the circus, into my WIP. That’s really all I know about the event, the bare fact of it. I was too young at the time to be given the scandalous details.
I’ve been thinking of using my Aunt Linda in a book for a while now, and in that time, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to ask family members for further elaboration on the subject. I thought about it, but chose not to ask, instead taking this bare fact, along with my circus research, and weaving my own fiction around it.
Reading the interview that followed the luscious People of the Book the other day, I learned that Geraldine Brooks has a process somewhat similar, on a much grander scale. That is, she starts her story with a bare fact, like the existence of an ancient Jewish text, and puts her own people around it, her own imagination into it. She says she looks for “just the right mix of knowns and unknowables–a lovely incomplete scaffold to build on.”