Truth and Fiction

Joe Bird, my good friend and fellow founder of The Shelton College Quarterly, has commented on this quote I sent him the other day:


Truth may be stranger than fiction, but fiction is truer.



Joe says that truth is an unintentional theme in his writing. Maybe he is unconscious of it at the time he is actually writing, but if writing is any good at all – and his is very good – it must deal with the issue of deception. My favorite writer – Jane Austen – is famous for her stories of courtship and romance. Many people see her works as bright, sparkling, happy stories. They are that, to be sure, and I, for one, am thankful for it. The good Lord knows that we who are inundated with stories about violence and gore and perversion and addiction and exploitation need something sparkling to cleanse the lenses every now and then. But Austen’s works are all about truth and deception. Particularly self deception. That’s why they resonate with serious thinkers in every generation. Elizabeth Bennett deceives herself. Not only about Wickham, but about Darcy. She is, at different times in the book, both proud – in the bad sense of the term – and prejudiced. The turning point in the story is Elizabeth coming to terms with her own self-deception as she reads Darcy’s letter explaining his dealings with Wickham. Of course, Darcy is self-deceived, as well, and comes to terms with himself through his remorse over alienating Elizabeth.


And is any character anywhere more self-deceived than Emma Woodhouse?


The theme of truth and deception is inherent in any serious fiction because it is the real inner battle that people who grow and develop – in other words, anyone interesting enough to read about – have to fight. We come to love Darcy and Elizabeth, finally, not because they are rich and beautiful (well, maybe that does help, a little) but because they are honest enough, deep enough and have enough longing about them to fight the same fights that we must fight. They inspire us. They assure us that there are people out there like them and that we, in our better moments, might be one of them.


Self-deception is the dominant theme in my first novel In The Forest Of The Night, where a local hero must finally tell the truth about his past. It is, likewise, the principle theme in my newest, Overtime: A Basketball Parable. In Andy Spradling’s new book The Lost Lantern, the protagonist, likewise, is coming to terms with past mistakes.


I’ll venture to say that coming to terms with one’s self is a dominant theme in any serious fiction. Truth – the truth that is below the surface, the truth that is too painful to speak of – is what fiction is all about.

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