The answer to the above question is – possibly. I used to think that writing fiction would be a good defense against such a state of affairs. My previous writing had been in the realm of academia. At a certain level, (peer-reviewed journals) even academics have to take a stand – albeit one that can be backed up in the literature or with one’s own research findings. I put myself out there on more than one occasion. When asked, in my oral thesis defense, how I would respond to the criticism that being a qualitative researcher meant I lacked objectivity, I responded that quantitative researchers are not objective either. Objectivity in any type of research is a myth. Now that was taking a firm stand, and it was one that many did not appreciate.
I’ll just fast forward to the life of a fiction writer. Let us first define the word, fiction.
Prose literature, especially short stories and novels, about imaginary events and people. Invention or fabrication as opposed to fact.
Synonyms: figment, invention, fabrication
That would appear to say all that needs saying about fiction, but not so fast. Here is a conversation that I had the other day.
Book recipient (suitable excitement on his/her face) Is it a true story?
Me: No, it is a work of fiction.
Book recipient (not in the least daunted) Yes of course but is it true fiction?
The term “true fiction” would appear to be an oxymoron.
I recently joined a fascinating discussion string on the Alliance of Independent Authors (members only) Facebook page. It related to how the friends and family of an author might view a work of his or her fiction. A few people shared having lost friends and angered family members because of what they had written. A fictional character may knock on a door to close to home. Perhaps the situations that the writer makes the characters endure are unacceptable. Maybe a friend or family member sees something familiar about a certain character and finds that a treasonable offence.
Authors must be free to explore a whole gamut of life situations without the fear that those close to them will lose sight of important realties. To write about a lifestyle or behaviour does not equal an endorsement, and the word fiction is synonymous with figment, invention and fabrication.
I had an enlightening experience at a social justice workshop years ago. In order to participate in a mock debate, we divided into two groups. One group had to speak in favour of the Gulf War. I found myself in that group. I took the exercise seriously and did a good job at the task assigned. I spent the entire weekend under attack for my stance on the Gulf War while enduring barely concealed looks of outrage. What part of mock debate did they not understand?
Later, when I taught communication skills at the undergrad level, there were often options for mock class debates. I never staged one. Words are powerful, and when wielded well they tend to stick – no matter the parameters of an exercise.
Is there truth in fiction? Yes, indeed – but it is the nature of that truth that needs to be explored. In a good work of fiction, I would expect to find a truth or two about human emotions, and most importantly, a truth about myself as I explore my own reactions to the story. I do not expect to find the author’s life story.
Excellent piece – it reminds me of Forster’s lecture that he gave on Aspects of the Novel, because in it he has this fantastic line that in many ways fiction is truer than real life. A skilled author tells us only what we need to know in order to create an impression, and a character. Real life, in contrast, is about inference and deduction.
very, very insightful. it’s so true that nothing in fiction is an author’s life story, and i don’t expect that’s what i’m reading. but people you know can be really finicky when it comes to what you write. I try to be cautious about that….
It’s really a tricky issue, though isn’t it? The story came through us and from us – it picked up bits and pieces on the way – it became more than the sum of its parts. I don’t think readers realize when they ask – how much of your story is true? – that we writers hardly know the answer to such a question.
we really don’t!!!
I always have this thought in the back of my head, especially if I use a real life situation for one of my characters.
Yes. Looking forward to reading this.
Great post. Reminds me of a mystery writer, Louise Penny, who has created a small town just north of Montreal. People contact her and want to know directions to get there; they want to see it for themselves, and stay at the B&B! She does a great job as a novelist. I am writing a memoir and expect to find myself in all kinds of hot water when it finally comes out…
That’s funny – I’ve done that, though – looked on a map to see if the name of a town is real. Memoir is so much more tricky because you’re coming right out and saying this is my life.
Thoughtful coverage of an explosive topic. Actually, I guess it’s not so much that the topic is explosive but that the reaction it creates is one of explosion! The academic community (of which I’ve also been aprt) is notoriously thin-skinned and yet quick to critize others. We get to expect that. It turns out that the non-academic world isn’t so different! 🙂
It does seem that the written word has the power to evoke strong emotions – regardless of whether it is fiction or nonfiction or something in between. We all better get a bit of that thick skin.
I think about this a lot as I’m working on my first book. I find myself hesitating at times, out of fear, of writing a certain thing. Then I have to remind myself that it’s my work, it’s my book, and I have to write what I want to write regardless of my worries about how people will perceive me. I often think of Stephen King. Think of the places his mind goes!
Yes – we need to be free to write the story we have to tell, because no one else can tell that story. Each of us are unique in that way. I also think that once that censoring voice takes hold – whether it be from without or within – where will it stop?
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