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There is Truth in Fiction. What’s Yours?

In his Masterclass on the topic of fiction, Neil Gaiman said, “We’re using memorable lies. We are taking people who do not exist and things that did not happen to those people in places that aren’t, and we are using those things to communicate true things.” Moreover, Gaiman states, “What you’re doing is lying, but you’re using the truth to make your lies convincing and true. You’re using them as seasoning. You’re using the truth as a condiment to make an otherwise unconvincing narrative credible.”

As a writer of both fiction and non-fiction, I do think that there are vital elements of truth found in novels. Let’s explore that further.

Currently, we live in a world that blurs the lines of fiction and reality. On the one hand, we live in political times that appear to be fiction despite the brutal reality of it all. Yet, on the other hand, we also have an endless supply of vision in the form of books, movies, and T.V. series. Therefore, it becomes easy to live in a world wearing fiction-tinted glasses. When writers begin to interweave real-life events into their stories, they begin to create new accounts or worlds that feel closely adjacent to our own. They build their characters around the situations that feel close to us, packed with realities that we would or could face. 

Before we go any further, we should look at the differences between Fiction, Nonfiction, and Creative Nonfiction. 

According to Brilliantio’s article, “Is Fiction True: When Imagination Meets Truth,” these are differences:

Fiction: “This refers to any story freely invented by its author. These stories can be set in either real or imaginary worlds. Fiction often contains an element of truth that allows readers to empathize with the characters and situations described.”

Nonfiction: “Unlike fiction, nonfiction is based on facts. There are various forms of nonfiction, such as biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, essays, textbooks, journalistic works, etc.”

Creative nonfiction: “Creative nonfiction has evolved, combining fact and fantasy to create compelling literary works. This genre allows readers to immerse themselves in the world of a story by combining journalistic techniques with an imaginative touch.”

 The article also gives examples of how historical fiction writers lay the foundation of their stories with truth – of events that have happened. The examples include:

1.| Readers are immersed in worlds where they feel as though they are experiencing history at first account.

2.| Readers can re-visit events from earlier eras, and they can reinterpret them through different perspectives and characters.

3.| These works can explore “family dynamics, morality, and social justice in a specific context of time and place.”

4.| These works can focus readers on historically overlooked moments – or be used to challenge traditional narratives about what we think we know. 

 In my works of fiction, I have learned that the only way that I could get deeper and darker stories is if I used something from my life and then adapted it, finally creating a piece of fiction based on a tiny truth. While doing my master’s in creative writing, I attended a seminar based on Hemingway’s quote, “The only writing is rewriting.” This seems apt when it comes to understanding whether there is truth in fiction or not. This takes me straight to Dan Brown’s novels. The idea of taking pieces of history and developing a narrative based on these myths and legends is incredible, and the art of writing these novels is something to be learned. I think there is also the allure of controversy that follows Brown’s writing – as he clearly states at the beginning of each novel that everything used is factual. Thereby taking truth and exaggerating it into fiction. 

LitHub’s article “Writers and Liars: On Fact, Fiction, and Truth” emphasizes the importance that fact holds in fiction yet still draws attention to the inherent storytelling abilities that individuals have, stating:

“Journalism and documentaries have an important place and often use the same toolbox as fiction. However, fiction uniquely suits truth-telling because humans have storytelling baked into their DNA. We understand the world best through stories, and these are an incredible way to arrive at something approaching a universal truth.”

 A Blog post breaks this down even further. The writer states that he sees the arts as having two different kinds of truth – the Absolute and the Worldly Truth. The Absolute Truth is “comprised of eternal, ideal teachings, [that] presents us with how life should be.” On the other hand, the Worldly Truth is “comprised of teachings that hold in the imperfect world we live in.” To a writer, both of these statements are equally true and important as they can be the base that an entire novel is based on. 

 There is always an element of truth in my writing – if it’s a bizarre work of fiction, it may be something ordinary, like the mention of a green jacket hanging in my closet or even a reference to the book I’m reading. My point is that truth in fiction, for me, is essential – it is how I make the work truly my own. When I was younger, I struggled to ‘belong’ to a community; there was always the question of whether I was Indian enough. 

 Through fiction, I could create a place where home felt welcoming. I could write about the seductions of belonging. However, I would always have to remind myself that the truth in fiction did not mean that where I grew up was not home – because it allowed me to create a different home compared to a creative identity. As a writer, I realized I was trying to develop all these characters and places. However, I was always aware that in some of my writing, these places may not be the ‘right’ or safe places. They could be highly turbulent terrain and surprising worlds, but they would be places my characters would look for because they, too, just needed to be somewhere. 

As readers and writers alike, I think that finding aspects of truth in fiction is something that we all look for. We want to find something in that writing that draws us to it, holds us between the lines, and keeps us there. Even though the truth may not be the same for the reader as it is for the writer, the mere fact that someone can feel ‘seen’ through this truth provides that connection between reader and writer, reader and book. 

We’re all just looking for connections to hold onto. 

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