Telling the Truth in Fiction

On Writing by snck

“Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie.” ~ Stephen King  in On Writing.

Today I wrote two freshmen orientation scenes for my story “Liberty”.    One of them takes place at the Fine Arts building.  It is sort of a kick-off pep rally for freshmen beginning “the first day of the best of the lives.”  The second one describes an introduction to the library and includes a rather humorous exchange between one freshman radical and an upperclassman trying to keep the show on the road.

To write these scenes, I pooled the collective memories of some Hanover College alums.  Through the haze of lost brain cells and over 30 years distance, I got some good detail that I weaved into the scenes, adapting it to suit my fancy and keep the story moving along.  I’m reasonably happy with the results for now, but I’m sure they can be improved with time and re-writes.

As I go about this task of bringing truth to life in a fictional world that is perhaps even more real than what actually happened, yet also a distortion of truth in time, many ethical (and even some legal) questions arise.  For example –

When I borrow characteristics from a real-life person and then have the fictional characters do things the real-life person never did, am I misrepresenting the truth and potentially harming someone?

If I include overheard quotes from historical figures and present them accurately (though in a different context), would I be subject to libel or slander?

Personally, are people going to assume things about my behavior based on what my main character does?  How will this affect my future?

For now, I’ll let these and other questions simmer a bit and focus on getting the story right.  I do believe it will be wise to consult some very wise and astute writers, editors, and perhaps even lawyers as this story comes to life.

(image “On Writing” from snck, some rights reserved)

3 thoughts on “Telling the Truth in Fiction

  1. Some interesting questions…I always feel like there must be a little bit of the author in the characters they write but perhaps that is only because I am new at all this.

    • I think you are right in nearly every case. The only exception that comes to my mind is Flannery O’Connor. I think she simply had such an amazing imagination that she could create characters out of the blue.

  2. The very beginning of your post jogged a memory of a famous quote which I’m too lazy to look up, “The difference between truth and fiction is that fiction has to make sense. Quite often I find myself being a little creative with real-life events when relating them for my blog to make it flow better, for reasonable brevity, and so that it contains some inkling of a moral or twist at the end. So long as I am not dishonoring someone with a bit of fudging, I go for expediency and a better piece.

    I became less lazy, the quote I’m paraphrasing is from Tom Clancy.

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