I recently had it suggested to me that because I write fiction, everything I write can be assumed to be untrue. I think this is rather an interesting line of thought, following on from previous proof-ponderings. What is the relationship between truth and fiction? Isn’t fiction basically about lying? How then can an honourable person be a fiction author?
What this flags up to me is the idea of truth working on different levels. There is situation specific truth – he said this, she said that. There are also the deeper, broader kinds of truth about human nature, psychology, reality. For fiction to work, in any genre, I think it’s essential to tap into those wider truths. If there is no emotional truth in a story, people do not find it credible. To function, a story must be believed, and to be believed it must express something recognisable. We might be in a galaxy far, far away fighting strange alien life forms and wielding wild technology, but the human emotions have to make sense.
Truth in other art forms is equally about capturing the essence of a thing. So in visual art, you aren’t limited to literal interpretations, you can go after creations that capture a feeling, a moment, the way something moved or a host of other entirely true things. In music I think there’s a continual reaching for emotional resonance that is entirely about truth.
A lot of human thinking has to do with abstracts and archetypes. Our notion of ‘horse’ is broad enough that we can fit any individual horse we meet into it. The same for person, or tree. A thing that challenges our understanding may make us shift the boundaries, but we hold them and they matter to us. Story-truth relies a fair bit on archetypes and abstractions, but to ring true the reader needs to feel that if they were that person, who had been through those things, they might just act in the same way.
To be good fiction, the story must be true in essence even if you have made up all the details.
I am therefore inclined to suggest that a person who writes fiction needs a keen sense of what is true and what isn’t, and develops a clear understanding about what is imagined by them and what belongs to external reality.
I’m also very wary of broad, sweeping thought forms that can be used by one person to entirely invalidate another person’s perspective. Too young to know what you’re talking about. Too mentally ill to have an opinion. Too inexperienced for your thoughts to count. Too naïve for your hurt feelings to be worth bothering over. Too demanding. Too influenced by someone else. Too much not agreeing with me for me to listen to you.
And while I’m venting, I’d like to raise the issue of people who write erotica. We don’t imagine that all crime and horror novelists go round killing people for research. We don’t even assume they might want to. And yet so often the idea that erotica authors are obviously a bunch of depraved, amoral creatures comes up in the whole truth-fiction debate. I hear this one now and then because I write erotica under another name. Fiction is not autobiography, nor is it a declaration of intent or enthusiasm. Looking for truth in such a literal, surface way is dangerous, not least for the poor author involved. But when people are determined to write the facts off as storytelling and claim the storytelling as fact, life can be challenging.
My druidic anti-hero’s slogan was “The truth against the world.” Well world, time to see what you make of the next round.