The true creation of a not so true story?
During my period of searching for my new novels subject in 2013, I read an article about a sunken submarine in a second-hand magazine handed to me by a dear friend of mine. The article described chronologically the events that happened in August 2000 as they occurred according to the reports published years later after the conclusion of the official investigation.
In a small type font at the end of the article, a short disclaimer said something like ‘This article describes one version of a much-debated truth.’ That disclaimer together with the mirthless feeling that overcame me while reading about the doom that overcame the sailors aboard the submarine, made me decide to read up on the subject, curious enough not yet making the connection to my search for a novel subject.
While (almost obsessively) reading up on the subject and watching every available documentary on video it came to me. The chronological sequence to the events in the ten days passing would help me tell ‘my version of the true events’. So I started writing down the days and add everything bit of information I could find per day creating a 30-page document with facts, just facts without a story. Somehow, somewhere during that process, a story started to emerge in my mind. Characters developed and their actions started to merge from day to day creating a sense of drama to the personal story. The so-called facts leading up to about 40% of the story and consisted almost fully of the main story about Mischa Kastamarov and his family and friends. Simply because lots of it during those ten days played out in public.
Little to none was known about the political involvement by participating countries and even less about who was involved. Only a handful of public statements near the end of the rescue attempts (mostly by the Russians who almost always contradicted each other) were documented. In developing the background story I created US naval intelligence commander Mitchel James, the linking pin between events connecting the days, countries, people and politics. Though I like to keep thinking Mitchel James came from ‘nowhere’ in my mind I must admit that looking back at the story he is probably influenced by one of my favorite written story character, Jack Ryan. Mitchel became the ideal way to link everything and the straightforward character he is he would connect the dots. Writing Mitchel into the story my only concern became lot letting him ‘play a bigger part’ in the story then Mischa. I wanted Mischa’s drama to be the centerpiece of the story because his drama felt most real to me, sometimes almost talked to me. Did I succeed in that? You’ll be the judge of that.
With the little experience I had developing a story into action and dialogue being some 30 years old (when I wrote my first and last short fantasy stories) and my current experience as a screenwriting ‘help for hire’ online I first wrote Kursk as a movie script. After three months of writing, my story outline in screenplay format was finished. All that was left was the last part of filling in the blanks. As easy as it sounds here on paper it also sounded in my mind. How hard could it be? — Hard, very hard as I experienced over the next 12 months trying to fill in those blanks. Fortunately (on-line) I ran into someone who could affordably ‘proof’ my work, even more, fortunately, Andrea Busfield turned out to be the greatest muse an inexperienced writer could have. Short to having almost co-written the book Andrea enabled me to keep thinking about every word I wrote and most of all she helped me create the more than little character depth that was necessary to tell the story both as a ‘true’ drama and as an entertaining fiction.
Do I believe my story is the true story? Of course, I don’t believe that. I estimate the change of my guessing the tale correct is 1 in a billion. Could It have happened the way I wrote it? Sure. There are facts enough written into the story. Personally, I’m convinced there’s (much) more to the truth then the official statements lead us to believe (read the afterword in the book). The biggest premise being that politics will always trump personal suffering. That being said and not sound gloom I cite the words of Admiral Popov at the end of the Kursk crisis: “life goes on. Bring up your children, bring up your sons and please forgive me for not being able to save our sailors.”
A good year it took from the moment of my friend handing me the article till putting down the last words on paper. And it could have taken another year perfecting the story even further. As I read up on writing and writers it seems they all tell about the same problem in writing: when to stop. And though I felt it too for me stopping, declaring the work ready, was directly linked with the feeling to create another story. I guess the process of telling a story I more fulfilling than creating the perfect word.