We’re fiction writers. We haven’t taken an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. In fact, we have a license to lie that is envied by people who fish. Agent double-fingers-crossed, that’s us.
And yet … and yet don’t the best lies contain a smidge of truth? If so, then perhaps the best fiction contains truth as well.
We like to think so. As writers, we know a good story blurs the boundaries between the real and the imaginary. As readers, we need an element of truth to cross that boundary and stay in the writer’s world. How much truth do we need? Just enough to keep us in the story. It doesn’t matter if we suspect the writer is telling us half-truths, because not knowing if we’ve gotten hold of the wrong half is the fun of reading fiction.
But truth is more than simply getting the facts right. Here are two times when we demand truth in our fiction.
Personality. We think characters should stay in character – that is, be true to their personality. For instance, we felt betrayed by a character in a book-based movie who had gotten away with murder by continuous, skillful lying – and then in the last scene, when one more very simple lie would have assured freedom, committed an act that led instead to an entirely unnecessary unmasking.
Vocabulary. Whether the fictional world is based on reality or imagination, we are jarred right out of the story when language, cadence, or vocal quirks are inconsistent. We’re invested in a character’s tendency to upspeak, use vocal fry, or have a favorite expression. When those traits disappear, we notice.
Because we rely on our preferences as readers to improve as authors, we try to tell the truth in our writing. Even if we have to make it up.
What about you? Let us know in the comments how truthful you think fiction ought to be.
Florida-based mother/daughter author duo HL Carpenter writes sweet, clean fiction that is suitable for everyone in your family. The Carpenters write from their studios in Carpenter Country, a magical place that, like their stories, is unreal but not untrue. When they’re not writing, the Carpenters enjoy exploring the Land of What-If and practicing the fine art of Curiosity. Visit HLCarpenter.com to enjoy gift reads and excerpts and to find out what’s happening in Carpenter Country.
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