Making A Good Story Better, Or Not?

            Fishermen are often accused – unjustly, of course – of stretching the truth a wee bit at times when relating stories of their fishing success. While I have never felt this was entirely true except for some guys who always seem to at least CLAIM they did much better than I did on most any given day, recent movie releases have reaffirmed my belief that the geniuses in Hollywood make the average fisherman seem to be a paragon of integrity. I have no problem with pure fiction, and enjoy writing fiction myself. Fiction based on true events – as ALL of my fiction is – is perfectly OK, also, as long as the reader is made aware that the story is a work of fiction. I was made aware a couple of weeks ago that two “outdoor” writers whose work I have read and enjoyed, were either making up their adventures altogether, or at least re-telling stories they heard from others – after inserting themselves in the role of hero in very case. One of these wrote for Sports Afield when I was much, much younger (maybe before I was even born). His normal tales concerned the Alaskan and Yukon frontier, and were very exciting. Word is he mostly hung around bars in Fairbanks, Alaska, collecting stories to re-write. I don’t remember if the magazine ever stated that these stories were fiction, but even as a boy I assumed they were – as one writer put it, the man would have had to be 120 years old to have lived through all those adventures.

            The other case concerned a man who presented himself as an African “white hunter”, and wrote a whole series of books about encounters with dangerous game animals. He claimed to have also been a government control hunter who shot hundreds of elephants and Cape buffalo, and was badly mauled by a leopard. Now I hear he was a travel agent in New York who only went to Africa for the first time AFTER several of those books had been written and published. He evidently studied books written by and about actual pioneering African hunters and “edited” them to place himself in the starring role – and there was no attempt made to label these works as anything but his own true adventures.

I once had someone use an article of mine as their own, simply replacing my byline with their own name, and sold it to a weekly newspaper. I was not amused when a friend brought this to my attention, so I was rather upset to know a writer who basically stole his work from others had duped me. Almost as bad is the trend in Hollywood of re-writing classics of literature to make them a more exciting movie. The latest is the new, improved version of the Sherlock Holmes tales currently showing its second installment. I haven’t seen either of these movies, and probably never will, but I did read most of the Sherlock Holmes stories. I do not remember Holmes being as much of an action figure as the new movies seem to portray him to be – and he was definitely NOT a big ladies man. Except for perhaps, “The Hound of the Baskervilles”, I think most of the Holmes tales could be made without a whole lot of computer generated special effects, also.

If the American moviegoer simply must have these added features and jazzed up storylines to enjoy a tale on the screen, how far will this be allowed to go? Eventually the filmmakers will have exhausted all the old TV shows – maybe even the game shows – and if the “Holmes” films are successful, they will surely turn to other classics. As fishermen, most of us cringed when the movie “Jaws” and it’s unfortunate sequels were all the rage. Many liberties were taken with the realities of sharks and shark fishing, first in Benchley’s books, then in the screen versions, to make an exciting story. Of course, this was a work of fiction, and never represented as anything else, and the movie did not expand a lot on the book. I worry, though, about what might happen if moviemakers cast their attention to that most revered of all fish tales, Hemingway’s “The Old Man And The Sea”? Would the old fisherman discard his hand line for a computer controlled super fishing reel? Would the marlin be not just a huge marlin, but rather a sea monster big enough to eat Godzilla in a Japanese monster movie? Of course, the fisherman would not be in a dory powered by oars; he’d need a mega sports fisherman with an android crew and all the latest James Bond electronics.

The scene where the sharks try to eat the giant marlin would have to be ramped up, of course. More and bigger sharks would bite chunks out of the mega-yacht and eat several android crewmen before the fisherman called in an air strike from the unmanned drone aircraft he kept on the foredeck, and injured crewmen flown to hospitals on the mainland in a rocket-powered chopper launched from a hanger on the massive fly bridge. When the shark mangled marlin finally got to the dock, maybe they would either rebuild it with bioengineering, or clone it, like in Jurassic Park?

Who really knows?  I have heard rumors of a remake of “Moby Dick” where Greenpeace arrests Capt. Ahab and tries him for war crimes. My buddy “Six-Pack” thinks I shouldn’t worry so much about the Sherlock Holmes movies, since he figures as a Holmes heir I’ll get enough money out of it to replace my old Bertram and make my own version of the old man and the sea come true!


About MikeH

Texas hunter and fisherman for 50 years, published outdoor writer since 1979, licensed charter boat operator from 1982 to 2013. Past Member, Board of Directors, National Association of Charterboat Operators, current member Environmental Advisory Committee to the DOE and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Married to Dorothy since 2000, one son, Michael who is recently married and living in Nederland, Texas. My wife and I live in Oyster Creek, Texas, near Freeport, and have a hunting property outside of Brazoria, Texas.
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