Truth in Fiction

~ an essay

Fiction reveals truth that reality obscures. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

We always want to tell the truth; the lie is an absolute we cannot abide. But sometimes the hardest thing to do is to live this. It’s difficult living in the real world; it is difficult to tell the truth. The challenges of being a person here are boundless. We demand an escape as much as we yearn for an understanding. Consistently, we seek an evasion from the inadequacies of it all. We seek to see a world ascended and with eyes unclouded by cynicism. We wish to glimpse the general Truth we know of and cannot grasp on our own.

To this end, outside of our dreams, which avenue of pursuit do we choose? Often, we turn to fiction. Myths, legends, fantasy, drama. These components provide for us the necessary reprieve, or galvanization, to continue our mortal procession into an uncertain and terrifying tomorrow. Storytelling, nothing less than a foundational characteristic in the human condition, is an imperative of all cultures.

No one would deny this. Even as our imagination begins to falter in the onset of adolescence and adulthood, and the general grounding of responsibility weights itself upon us, we always seem to yearn for a good story ~ an empowering escape ~ an altered world of ideals in conflict ~ a call, a cave, and a return. Artistic presence wields a gravitas for shifting paradigms unlike anything else in our world. For me, the sincerest experience of story is integral to the good life.

Narrative x Focus

Since time immemorial, we have told stories to one another. The value of the story was laced in the survival of the species. The act of storytelling an origination of performance art. A story provides the audience with an intriguing narrative to follow. Entertainment and learning come together upon this platform. We feel the excitement in the dangers and conflicts of the protagonist; we observe the err of their way, the response & resolution, and work to implement it in our own life. A “narrative” performs the work of bringing together disparate concepts in a cohesive manner to convey a larger idea. In the structure of the story – the rising action, the climax, and the resolution – are the ingredients for a certain focus. Storytelling best serves us as the most conducive format for the focused distillation of ideas and morals we wish to convey to our fellow human beings.

The format of the narrative allows the teacher, or the creator, to craft their ideal message they wish to express under the cover of the compelling framework of “make-believe.” The narrative progression of a story, and the dramaticism in telling it, strips away the impurities of reality and forces us to bear witness to an incongruous truth we might otherwise overlook.

In the abstract, chronicling an account about people who don’t exist, doing things that have not been done and might never be done, may seem foolish or even absurd. And yet, a child is naturally inclined to believe in the impossible. Perhaps the most important time in our lives is in childhood when we are imaginatively dreaming of profound heroes and terrifying monsters in conflict. Our young are biologically compelled to dream about these conveyances concerning impossible realms of fantasy and myth, just as we are compelled to tell them our most cherished stories.

Here, the creator and the experiencer can engage in an exchange, a dialogue. In this exchange, knowledge, insight, emotion, truths about the world, things unseen and unspoken – are given over to be interpreted and appreciated. Real experiences can be transferred from the elders under the canvas of the fictional narrative; this conception follows the longstanding tenet of writing: write what you know. In this dual experience, in the art created and experienced in sincerity, a connection is formed. The bond is strengthened by the influence of its messenger, the legend surrounding its formation, and perhaps most of all – by the effectiveness of the words themselves on the reader or listener. These recursive developments of storytelling can be called culture.

“Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life: they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It’s like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can’t stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship.”
~ Anne Lamott

The Power of Story

A good story takes an idea, and its principal character, to its fruition. Stories augment our experience like nothing else. They allow us to securely live thousands of other lives over the course of our own singular existence. In seeing through the mind of another person, perhaps a world and a lifetime away, we amplify our faculties for reason & empathy. This experience widens our mental perspective, allowing us to peer rather clearly through social and cultural barriers. It works to inspire us to new peaks of compassion we did not know we were capable of. The truth is simply that stories have the power to change us. Storytelling and the participation of fiction is foundational in that it breeds the components most fundamental to the human condition: self-reflection, aspirational thinking, conscious creativity. Learning.

~How is the conscious observer considered wise?
The observer learns with efficiency, without the realization of pain.

~What happens to us when we effortlessly connect with a story?
The reader discovers the value in mindful empathy.

~Why do we feel the compulsion to make something of our own?
The creator boldly uncovers hidden, perhaps forgotten, worlds borne of their own unique imagination.

Once the artistic journey of creation is undertaken, there is often no recourse and no better feeling than its materialization. In all of these actions and experiences, there is a common thread: the transformative effect storytelling has on our hearts & minds. All it takes is a single book, a play, a film, an anecdote – to change our lives forever. We are creatures of the mind and so we demand a mindspace filled with enriching histories, comedies, and legends. Our rapacious requirement for this is without end. A penchant for this sacred art lends credence to the best parts of human existence and our own sentience. We each are walking, talking stories, waiting to be uncovered and articulated to the world around us.

Who is the writer?
~ In the work, we find them.

Who is the reader?
~ In our interpretation, we know ourselves.

What are the most endearing chimeras and terrifying vistas we can imagine?
~ When we are faced with them, we learn of our conceivable interactions, in worlds unbidden and unaccounted for.

When do we find ourselves in the characters? In their imperfections and authenticity, what do we see?
~ In so far that we can see ourselves, we are better for it.

Where do we go once we have escaped?
~ We can liberate from the animus of reality for only so long. Whatever is harvested is certainly endeavored to be recovered and returned to the day-to-day.

Why do we want to experience conflicts external of ourselves; why envision suffering & struggle in the mind’s eye?
~ Because we can relate; because we do not wish to be alone.

How often do we give rise to sincere hope on the wings of these others’ words and dreams?
~ Ad infinitum, hopefully.

“I think that most of us read these stories that we know are not “true” because we’re hungry for another kind of truth: the mythic truth about human nature in general, the particular truth about those life-communities that define our own identity, and the most specific truth of all: our own self-story. Fiction, because it is not about someone who lived in the real world, always has the possibility of being about oneself.”
~ Orson Scott Card

Truth & Catharsis

So what is the Truth in fiction?

I believe it negotiates our necessary path to self-actualization.

An adoption of creative pursuit into our consciousness surely adds lines and flourishes of insight into our blueprint for how we would like our lives to be. An artist is compelled to impart some kind of Truth in their work because it’s the only thing that makes good art.

The writer and avid reader each understand this in their own way. Any ignorance of these conditions for life-enriching quality, can be attributed simply to inexperience. Not every person is a writer or an artist, but every person is a story. In this sense, everyone is worthy of an honest, charitable, and conscious understanding. And everyone loves a good story, especially when its heart intersects our own in some small way.

Writing and reading, in the dialogue of creation, allows each the expression unfounded in worldly experiences. How often is the only path to true, unobfuscated self-expression within the act of creation? The primary and most effective method of confronting an internal daemon can be through the production of a fantasy to try to vanquish it, or comprehend it. At the core of the matter, we are using words to try to make comprehensible the incomprehensible. The struggle within might stay locked away for season after season. But perhaps it cannot forever remain inarticulate. Speaking our truth, lighting up our darkness with the sunlight from communicae, letting the ground give way on all our hidden existential maladies … it might just be impossible to do so live and in real-time, before an audience of one or many. But on the canvas, maybe the story flows like a river.

All this being said, the need to expel it, even in the security of your own time within your pages, does not make it yield easily. The act of honest creation requires a certain indomitable courage. What does one do when practical words fail? Our long-standing cultural landscape for the experiential story allows for the origination of our real emotives into a world which is universes away. We all can envision this – a realm only in the mind’s silently screaming spaces until earnestly put to page. A story provides an avenue for the struggler to purposefully convey themselves, giving agency to the struggle through the lense of fiction, all without demeaning its meaning. This process may not work for everyone. But for many, there is catharsis in art. And it is crucial.

The work of art, in whatever capacity one finds it, services to mark meaning to our suffering to all that come to see it. The artist shares their grace and their dread in the painting, upon the canvas of the numinous, working inside the hearts of the gathering. Changes are affected, each person leaves with something different, something rare. And the critical reception of this art is less important than the intentions which produced it, perhaps forever unknown. It is because of this enigmatic yet severely consequential sensibility in the exchange, that the interpretation of the work says much more about the interpreter than it does the creator. The work stands on its own; the expression itself speaks and is the baseline commentary. The content of the interpretation is in the reflection and revelations afforded directly to the analyst. The artistic presence is two-fold: in the self of the artist and the eye of the critic. This dual exchange featured in the experience of art is perhaps the most powerful aspect of all.

Given all these potential consequences, an effectively powerful story can spur real change outside of its own fictional confines, outside its own timeline and into the world we find ourselves in at any given moment. Out of its experiencers, it can inspire a lifetime of nascent creative yield. It can challenge the most certain resolutions into critical reverie. The metaphors of the romantic can save one’s singular world from the unconscionable darkness of depressive apathy; and it could very well be the only actor for the job.

Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth. ~ Albert Camus

Story compels us to unmask.

When we look into the twisted mirror of our reality, referencing the comparison between the two conceptions, we are tasked with solving mysteries, putting together puzzles, leading ourselves into existential conflicts undaunted. And in these fictional conceptions, we experience characters we feel like we know – friends, enemies, lovers, strangers. We are given over to worlds which breathe with life and motion and intrinsic motivations. In this reflection we willingly submit to, we are taken in by thought experiments and proverbial choices which inform our sense of self. What is the right thing to do? Where are we in the moral landscape? Why does my conscience say this? This internal dialogue is useful insofar that we mindfully engage with it. On either side of art, if only for a moment we can gaze sincerely into our own willing soul, then perhaps a cultivation commences. What we see may surprise us, frighten us, or bring us a measure of peace. The value in this action is its focal point: an exercise in unabashed Truth-seeking. ~

Drizzt Do’Urden created by R.A. Salvatore // Art by Todd Lockwood