Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Does Fiction Always Tell The Truth?

O.K., a few obvious things first… 

Does Fiction Tell The Truth?

Image Courtesy of Meredith B ~

“Truth” can be a slippery topic—it can have “layers”—it can change over time

Then, there’s the word “fiction”—sometimes used to mean, “an untruth”; sometimes to mean, “an invented statement or narrative”.

And, being “invented” doesn’t automatically make something untrue

Do all fiction authors strive to have the truth ring out from their invented tales?

Should they?

I recently read an article on Kill Zone (top Thriller & Mystery writers) titled, Should Fiction Writers Tell the Truth?, by James Scott Bell.

Mr. Bell leads with a quote from playwright and essayist, David Mamet:

“When you sit down to write, tell the truth from one moment to the next and see where it takes you.

Then, he offers a question about folks’ statements about “truth”:

“Do they mean objective truth (that which is true no matter what anyone thinks about it)? Or subjective truth (that which comes out of the deepest part of ourselves)?”

He then gives a probable definition:

“I think what…writers mean by ‘tell the truth’ is that the writer must, first and foremost, be honest with himself. Not be afraid to go wherever his inner heart and life are leading. Tell that story, from the gut.”

The whole article is fascinating to ponder, especially what he says about Game of Thrones

If you read or write fiction, I suggest you read the full article.

One thing I might say, from my own experience, is that the fiction which speaks the truth to me is the kind that reaches deep into the “human condition”—reveals the oh, so human struggles of the characters—gets down to the truths we all share

If you do read Mr. Bell’s article, don’t miss out on the Comments

Another article you may want to read is Abraham Rothberg‘s Fiction is a Lie That Tells the Truth.

Finally, to round-out this exploration of fiction and truth, here are nine other opinions:

“Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.”

Albert Camus

“Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures.”

Jessamyn West

“Artists use lies to tell the truth. Yes, I created a lie. But because you believed it, you found something true about yourself.”

Alan Moore, V for Vendetta

“There is no doubt fiction makes a better job of the truth.”

Doris Lessing, Under My Skin: Volume One of My Autobiography, to 1949

“That’s what fiction is for. It’s for getting at the truth when the truth isn’t sufficient for the truth.”

Tim O’Brien

“A good story is always more dazzling than a broken piece of truth.”

Diane Setterfield, The Thirteenth Tale

“But it’s the truth even if it didn’t happen.”

Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

“Writing fiction is the act of weaving a series of lies to arrive at a greater truth.”

Khaled Hosseini

“If you will practice being fictional for a while, you will understand that fictional characters are sometimes more real than people with bodies and heartbeats.”

Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

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10 responses to “Does Fiction Always Tell The Truth?

  1. philipparees June 19, 2015 at 5:26 am

    Great point of discussion Alexander! Great Quotes too. Especially from Doris Lessing. Clearly book marked the article.


  2. Jane Watson June 19, 2015 at 10:44 am

    I think one of the most difficult tasks a writer has is to find what matters to them and to write about it without trying to deny it or to walk away from it – to find their truth. I often feel that the thing you most want not to write about holds within it the kernel of truth that is trying to bud in your inner core and it is growing that difficult little acorn that is the most essential task a writer has – and when writers feel depressed or blocked it is really because they cannot or do not want to face this….I have certainly experienced this :-)


    • Alexander M Zoltai June 19, 2015 at 11:29 am

      I completely agree with you, Jane; and, love the way you state your insights…

      I can’t help but think about my recent decision to not write a book—not because of fear of what would be stated; but, fear that doing it would veil what had already been stated in Notes from An Alien—two very different kinds of fear—two different engagements with Truth…


  3. Mike June 19, 2015 at 12:15 pm

    Glad to see you’re back. You were missed.


  4. Pingback: Using Science in Fiction ~ Tread Carefully . . . | Notes from An Alien

  5. Pingback: Our Blog Conversation Takes a Turn toward Truth. . . | Notes from An Alien

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