Friday, September 3, 2010

Honesty, It's Such a Lonely Word

As I see it, there are three kinds of truth-telling when it comes to writing.

1. There's narrative truth-telling. I'll come back to this in another post, but this is essentially the insides of the story. How much of what you're being told as a reader is true or bent or completely fabricated. Is your narrator trustworthy? Or does he have an agenda all his own? Are you--as a writer now--intentionally misdirecting your audience for a greater gain? To a lesser degree, this area can address whether the writing is good. For example, do you have anachronisms present in the story? Are there hover cars flying around 18th century England? And, is this intentional for a purpose that will be revealed? There's some interesting stuff here so I shall return to it another day here on the Farthest Reaches.

2. There's a character truth-telling, in which we may, as writers, define characters that do not know their own truth or are, unintentionally lying to themselves. There may be a man who thinks he is a stand-up husband and father, but in reality he's a liar, a cheat and not very comfortable in his own skin. He may falsify records at his job or see hookers on his lunch break but, outwardly, and in the script of the story, he holds his head high and acts as if he is a pillar of the community. There is some trickery here because an audience may disagree with the author's judgement call, or miss the disconnect entirely if not done well. Now, whether the author should be judge and jury, that's another matter up for debate, isn't it?

3. Lastly, and this is the one I'll address in more depth today, is the matter of authorship truth-telling.

How much of my story reveals something about me? And am I comfortable with that? I've been writing fiction for over a dozen years now and I still struggle with this. Not because I worry about being honest, but because there's a temptation to pull in the reigns a bit or sanitize things for the protection of the reader. Some of you are undoubtedly saying, "No! You must let the story be what it is!" And this is true. I have uttered the words, "Story is king" on a number of occasions and I believe that it is a truth of the highest order.


There's a bit of creeping doubt, isn't there? It's more than tidying things up for a reader, it's about the closeness of the material to the writer himself, to his life, to the lives of his loved ones. If I write a story about a pedophile who lusts after young boys and the writing of this character is so sharp and believable, will my readers wonder, even subconsiously, if their dear author has the same affliction? What would this do to me if eyebrows were raised and how much scrutiny might come about from it?

Plus there's this: A main character in a novel has a really bad drinking problem and, as a plot device, it pushes him to make a major mistake. He climbs into a car and hits a toddler on a winding suburban road. Ack! What if I wake up one day and realize the plot device was a fake, but I have the problem with alcohol which I was ascribing to Joe Character? Would I fly into a rage? Would I be embarrassed? Would I be forced to look at a character flaw in my*self* that I didn't want to see?

If I write a fight scene between a husband and wife that is so razor-thin with the emotions of such a compressed moment, will readers wonder if my own marriage is on the chopping block? Especially if the fight was taken from my real life?

Now readers are an astute bunch. You've got to assume they are smart, smart, smart. And all of my readers have proven to be incredibly on-the-ball when it comes to "getting" what I'm putting out there. Any one who's married for any length of time will know that husbands and wives fight. And they fight hard sometimes. Through it, of course, they learn how to fight but sometimes they learn how to cut. The bone comes exposed and the nerves are tingling and it can feel like life or death. But it doesn't necessarily point to bigger problems. And it doesn't have to be the end of the world.  Our genetics makes us mad with vulgarity and hateful things to spit out, but it doesn't mean we are packing the car in the next instant and driving two hours in the rain to get away.

But there's still that niggling bit of doubt? You read some writers' stuff and you sit back and say, Hmmm. What neuroses is this madball writer sharing with me today?

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In another post, I will delve into some specific examples from my writing that you may have read, anecdotes from "On the Gathering Storm", my current novel, "Shed", another novella that is turning out to be rather endeared by the people who've read it, and a couple glimpses into my forthcoming novel, "Thalo Blue" where I'll talk about my aversion to guns. Yes. GUNS!


  1. "What neuroses is this madball writer sharing with me today?"

    hahaha..WHAT?! I love my wife, seriously I do! :)

  2. Ha! Yeah, Nathan! Come to think of it, Jack and Laura in your book come to mind as a good example of this. Shows that you are a good writer, though, because the tension in their marriage is believable but I don't imagine the same chemistry exists in your real life marriage.

    Cheers for the comment!
    j. //

  3. I don't want to trivialize your well-thought-out blog post with an inane comment, but I have to say that the phrase "sees hookers on his lunch break" made me giggle.

  4. Doesn't trivialize it a bit, Tyler. It's giggle-worthy, for sure...and just the sort of thing I throw in here from time to time to keep you (at least somewhat) entertained and coming back. Next week I'll have a post about trannies with milk fetishes. For realz.

    Thanks for the comment and for looking in on my little hovel. Cheers! j. //


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