Of course, there is a difference between fact and fiction. It is the job of the writer to selectively disregard facts, to reimagine and rework them into stories fantastic, but I believe Mark Twain got it wrong when he said:
“Never let the truth get in in the way of a good story.”
He should have said, “Always make the truth the way of your story.” As you learned in your high school English classes, the mark of an enduring work of fiction is that it explores and sheds light on universal truths that resonate deep within the psyche of the reader.
Good fiction NEVER disregards truth, but bolsters it and reaffirms it at every opportunity. Twain’s body of work endures because it goes beyond mere entertainment and rings with the clarity of truth.
I’m sure you remember certain books that became landmarks of your childhood, and you know why they were so important to you and are still important to you now.
You still find yourself responding to their deep messages of love, truth, goodness, the resilience of the human spirit, and other themes that pluck a chord in the hearts of all people.
My favorite childhood book, The Secret Garden, celebrates the beauty of friendship and growing things, of selflessness, of caring, and of the delights of shared secrets.
Whenever we read something that shines a light on the truths we have known since infancy, or teaches us a new truth we had never imagined before, it resonates into the deepest layers of our minds and hearts, and we call it a “good book.”
If you look at the great works of literature, you will find, without exception, universal truths, gems of edification that ring out in each and every one of them.
Hamlet agonizes over the dilemma of whether to sacrifice his future, his love, his family in order to expose treachery or to ignore and suppress the uncomfortable secrets simmering beneath his comfortable life.
Scout Finch discovers both the callousness and the dignity that can exist within the hearts of humans, while Scarlett O’Hara teaches us that it is possible to rise above the horrors that life can hand out and reach for something bigger.
As writers, if we want to create something memorable and lasting, we must make our number one goal be to reveal truth.
If you fail to do that, you may find yourself trying to make your work memorable and lasting by making it spectacular, by appealing to the senses rather than to the less easily accessed recesses of a reader’s love of deep truth.
When that happens, we get fiction that is mere entertainment, easily forgettable. The harder an uncaring author tries for a memorable story, the more hollow and sensational his or her fiction becomes. There is no real story to tell, and the writing devolves into an orgy for the senses.
Romance becomes pornography, thrillers become a stream of unmitigated violence and cruelty, humor evokes empty, soulless laughter. You end up with works like Fifty Shades of Gray, mere sense and no sensibility.
If you have a taste for the graphic, for the sensational, for the erotic, there is no reason you can’t write about those things.
But please, for the sake of your art, let the senses, the sensational, take their place behind the more important function of your pen, and let those factors be the scaffolding upon which you build the heart of your story.
Aristotle and Plato both said it centuries ago, and it has been echoed by readers and literary critics throughout the centuries since: the task of the writer, or of any artist, is to edify while entertaining. Always strive to make your fiction true.
Latest posts by Radu Balas (see all)
- The Top Ten Must-Read Flying Books - Jun 17, 2021
- SEO Audit Process to Boost Your Google Rankings - May 1, 2021
- Top Tips for Growing Your Instagram Account in 2021 - Apr 29, 2021