Sunday, December 23, 2007

Truth vs Fiction, or What

Factual writing of a reportorial or hypothesis-making sort requires a set of rules and regulations that become necessary for the writer and reader to follow. These rules and regulations inform the relative reliability of the writer and the writer's hypothesis. Some writers, as Blake notes in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, write as though a firm persuasion that a thing is true renders the thing in fact the truth. There are also writers who appear to put on game faces for a particular cause, and those, to my mind, become more slippery in their unreliability.

A good deal of this sentiment is brought to me by a number of candidates for the major position we have to confer on an individual at this moment in our planet's beleaguered history.

One of the reasons I find problems writing this kind of text is because of my impatience with sticking to those very rules. It makes editing more time consuming because of the need to check fact and to make sure I attribute to a person what I reckon that person intended, whether I agree with it or not. And yet another editorial chore is the one in which I must not assume without review and consideration that I know the intent of the writer.

You would think then that I welcome fiction with open, lazy hands, but alas, the problem is that they, even though they are my inventions, have their ow beliefs and tenets and understandings that sometimes eclipse mine. They have a truth that must be sought before they can set off on their multifarious vectors of story.

There is no cheap or easy way out; it is the obligation we sign onto when that remarkable first line hits us, when someone nudges us and allows us to call him Ishmael or Fred or even Melvin, although if I had a character named Melvin, I think I would want to reason with him, perhaps Mel.

We have to know who these persons are, what they want (as opposed to what they say they want, because characters will lie to us at first to gain a platform, and woe unto us if we take such a character on blind faith) and what they are willing to do to get what they want. By listening carefully to our characters as they step out of the shadows, we are developing the muscle memory of empathy. It is not out job to judge them, it is in fact our job to help them express through actions their heartfelt desires, the better for readers to see how many ways the human condition can go. Then choices can be made.

Everywhere about is are the satellites of contingency, choice, consequence, as large and fair as tonight's rising moon to remind us of the tidal pulls on the events of our life. If we feel to see them in our characters, how can we hope to find them resident in ourselves? And how can our stories be worthy of being retold?

There are some stories we enjoy rehearing only for the love residing in the teller's voice, and indeed, how many of the plots of our favorite stories can we call to mind as opposed to the men and women, young and old, of our favorites? We can recall moments of choice, of moral impact as, say, when Jaivert realizes his entire life has been acted out as a symbol of obedience to a rule that is overdone. Because of the convictions built into Jaivert, we sympathize all the more for the man as we seem him realize he has boxed himself into a bind in which he cannot live, and thus we remember him as an example we sincerely wish to avoid. We see Ahab torn beyond comfort because of the consequences of his goal and we look suspiciously about us for fellow humans who follow his path. (Fortunately, the most obvious candidate has only another year left in office.)

We must make sure to endow all of our characters with the spark of belief and consequence they deserve, lest they remain in the shadows and drag our stories there as well.


R.L. Bourges said...

Me and my shadow - or whatever parts of them flicker across your mental screen - wish you a merry festivus.

x said...

I am always envious of writers whose characters talk to them. That only happened to me once. Actually, now that I think about it, my most recent story posted on my blog (The Corridor of Men in Suits 12/15) most definitely wrote itself. I just transcribed. Being in that state with a story and characters gives it a deeper authenticity than mere invention.