The True Power of Artistic License

Artistic license.  The concept that a good plot is more important than a realistic depiction.  That which an author uses when reality selfishly refuses to accommodate what they need for the plot to work.

I was talking with Harliqueen a while back, when she was in the process of writing what would become Heart of the Arena. At the time, she was greatly concerned about historical accuracy, about making sure all the facts she was implementing to her story conformed as much to historical fact as she could make them. She wanted to ensure that her story stuck as closely to reality as reasonably possible.

At the time, I was struck by that. I’ve been taking the exact opposite approach in my own ongoing work, treating my subject matter with however much flexibility I needed to make the awesome scenes I wanted, and I’d been considering that one of my strengths. And you know what? I still do. Both approaches, that of perfect accuracy and of wanton artistic interpretation, definitely have their merits. It just so happens that the latter is serving my story a lot better.

Even from the outset, I have a lot of room, a necessity even, for utilizing artistic interpretation. While Harli’s tale draws its roots from Roman history, mine bases a lot on mythology and religion, a much softer science. Moreover, I’m drawing from both quite a few different cultural tales and faiths, and taking some inspiration from apocrypha as well, so I really need to implement a lot of ‘creative interpretation’ to ensure my story’s logic can integrate all these sources yet still be consistent. Even beyond that, though, I’ve been thinking that heavy use of artistic license, to the extent I’m looking at with my current work, could be a very beneficial factor in itself.

Basically, what I’m thinking is that a properly applied sense of artistic license can add its own layers onto the work as a whole beyond just what it allows for plot. A good, strong, consistent manner of deviating from what’s established by reality can help to establish an atmosphere and tone for the work on its own, helping it to stand out and creating its own unique. Pretty much any work based in any way on the real world makes use of some degree of artistic license. By being deliberate about it, though, and ensuring its applied consistently throughout, the author can take command of it to help make the work as a whole more unique, having a stronger overall design, and more flexibility in how to implement stories.

There’s a fine line there. Artistic license should only be applied where there’s room for it. That’s one of the reasons I have a lot more flexibility in working with mythology and religion than on other subjects. I’ll already be using a lot of various sources with a lot of internal inconsistencies, where there may not be in something like history. However, every inconsistency is the seed for some sort of interpretation. And by managing those inconsistencies and growing out of them creatively, I’ll be able to make my work a lot stronger than it would be otherwise.

6 responses to “The True Power of Artistic License

  1. I think those inconsistent threads are the core of mythology – when I was building my D&D campaign world way back when, it was trying to explain stuff that had no explanations that formed a lot of the back bone of what it was to become. Artistic license can be a deadly tightrope if handled without care I think, as evidenced by the amount of crap on the market right now, and its too bad that “license” is the governing factor and not “artistic”. Not that I think we need more literary offerings, genre fiction is more that satisfactory to me (no surprise there), and I would love to get a peek at your stuff. Good post, and glad it was said.

    • That’s exactly right, that artistic license can be a deadly tightrope. We’ve seen so many works go too far with it, and it just breaks what they were trying for in the story. It definitely needs to be handled with care. Still something I’m learning how to do properly.

      I’ve been toying with the idea of putting my current project up on here. I’m a little hesitant, as it’s a graphic novel, and my drawing skills leave a lot to be desired, and I haven’t put a creative work up for the feedback of the masses in quite a while. Haven’t yet decided on whether or not to do it. Either way, though, I think I could let you take a look at it, if you’re interested.

  2. I think in whatever format you use- graphic novels, comic, books- there is room for artistic license. It is a story, after all 😀 If people wanted to know the truth about something, or if they wanted information on tales of myths, then they could read a factual book. They shouldn’t be looking for real facts from any type of fiction 🙂

    Plus, I really love all the stuff you do. I think all the interesting twists you take are part of your strengths.

    What a great post and really interesting topic, definitely tweeting this one! 😀

    • Absolutely. Personally, I always appreciate when things deviate from reality. So long as the deviations make sense.

      Thank you so much! You’re the one person who has read pretty much everything I’ve made since we were teenagers, and it really makes me happy to know you enjoy it.

      I really appreciate it!

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