April 7, 2015

The Truth About Fiction

by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine

The best stories have always explored the premise of "What if?"  What if a girl was transported to a place called Oz and met many strange characters?  What if a man were shipwrecked on a desert island for 27 years? What if teenagers had to choose their life's path from one of five factions?

Each of us has an innate sense of curiosity that draws us into questions we'd like to know the answer to.  A good "what if" premise is all it takes to make us want to read that book, see that movie, watch that show.  We feel as if we won't fully rest until we know the outcome. 

Writers from Byron to Mark Twain have been credited with "truth is stranger than fiction" quotes, and indeed, the mysteries of life can be among the most confounding.  And when it comes to fiction, nothing is more compelling than a situation unlike anything we've ever experienced.

That said, in order for fiction to be credible, it must have truth behind it.  Even the most fantastic of plots demands some correspondence with the realities of life as we know it.

If, for example, the premise is "What if a magic device could stop time?", the writer would be wise to examine the ramifications of that question based on the real world.  Physics aside, such a premise begs addressing practical considerations like how widespread the effect of the pause is, whether people will still age while in suspended animation, whether air would continue to circulate, etc.  Even if these explorations don't end up in the book, the writer would do well to feel settled into some personal conclusions about it all.

We may not be experts on a magical device or the world of the future, but we are experts on reality since we have lived it every day of our lives.  That is sufficient fodder for creative storytelling that contains the needed elements of truth.

Whether it's an escape from real life or an exploration of life's possibilities, a well-told fiction story will always pull us in when it feels real. As Game of Thrones screenwriter David Benioff said, "Truth may be stranger than fiction, but it needs a better editor."

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