Writing the dead into fiction

On the 24th of September 1974, premature twins Guy and Sarah were born. By the 30th of September, both were buried. Guy lived for one day. Sarah, for ten hours. I never knew them because I wouldn’t be born for another nine years, but they are still my brother and sister.

What does this have to do with writing? Even if you didn’t read the 2001 novel, you’ve probably watched the film version of Atonement (spoilers incoming). The main character confesses that the happily ever after she wrote for her two main characters in her autobiographical book never happened. The book title comes from her attempts to atone for her actions, and she wrote the fictional happy ending they deserved.

For years I had the bones of a modern-day fantasy story. It was the story I wrote in my first ever participation in NaNoWriMo, and it was terrible because I struggled to conjure the correct characters to fit the world I had mentally created. Roll on another decade, and during an evening doing an ancestry search, I realised I had yet to add my two missing siblings. Finding the physical records brought me closer to them. I also understood their deaths benefited me because my parents told me they would have stopped at three children. This knowledge forged a bond between us.

Being a writer, and having the luxury of forty years of living, means I am compelled to write about them. I shall never know who they might have grown up to be. But I know the characteristics of my parents, my two sisters and my own.

I had the world building, and now I had the characters. A story quickly emerged. In my early draft, I wrote in the third person, but it seemed too close to home to be in the hearts and minds of the characters named after my siblings. It was then I chose to focus on telling the story from the first-person view of an entirely fictional female character. Guy and Sarah now became two prominent protagonists helping her, but whose minds and motives I could only guess through my lead character. Incorporating the dead into fiction is no simple task.

I am still in the first draft of this story. But my brain is already skipping merrily ahead, forming an entire series revolving around their adventures. Guy and Sarah never had a chance to live. But they can “live” within my fiction.

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