The strange truth about fiction

“It’s no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense.” Mark Twain

One of my tweeps  – if you’re not on Twitter, let’s just call him a friend – sent me a link to the opening chapter of his first book tonight. And it’s a corker.

Written in the first person, it tells the story of a father who finds out his two children have just been killed. It shook me to the core. I immediately presumed it was a true story. I messaged my condolences. Before telling him I thought his writing was brilliant.

Only it wasn’t a true story. It was fiction. And it got me thinking about truth and fiction. I’ve always believed the truth is far more interesting than fiction. But maybe it isn’t?

I’m planning my autobiography in my head at the moment. Exploring in my mind what I’ll share and what I’ll keep secret. I was going to write only the truth. Bare my bones on the pages. But now I’m thinking … maybe I’ll add in a fictional element. Maybe I could just use my life as a starting point. But then I can’t really call it an autobiography – or can I?

Now I wonder how many autobiographies are the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Surely any creative writer can’t help but embellish a little and edit a little bit more. I’m guessing then maybe zero. We use phrases like ‘inspired by her life’ or ‘based on a true story.’

Ok, so I’ll change some people’s names. I might even change some of the details. But what I won’t change are the feelings. And that’s exactly what works in my friend’s writing. He captures the feelings of shock and grief and the resulting devastation beautifully. It is powerful and – most importantly in fiction – it is completely believable.

Quite simply my book will be about one woman’s emotional journey through motherhood. How I tell that story is really up to me.

“Never underestimate people. They do desire the cut of truth.”  Natalie Golberg.

The chapter that inspired this post, well worth a read: Project JB – Chapter One

2 thoughts on “The strange truth about fiction”

  1. interesting Summer! i recently saw an Olivia Newton-John interview where she mentioned penning her autobiography years ago, only not to publish it. she said it was too personal, too vulnerable. instead she?s released Livwise, a wellbeing recipe book that offers a little piece of her and her attitude to life.
    i think an autobiography is an account of ones life. raw, bits removed, future hopes, but mostly pages riddled with emotion, backed by a good narrative. people love a happy ending and someone to relate to and I guess that?s why autobiographies about beating adversity are so popular (unless of cause you’re a celebrity and people just want to get to know the ‘real’ you!).
    i love the concept of your book and think it?ll be a cracker for the very reasons that you loved your fellow tweep?s. Emotion. You?re a passionate Mum and you?ve got a story to tell and i can’t wait to read it.

    1. Hi Dom, thank you so much for your feedback.
      Your comments about Olivia Newton-John are really interesting. I can totally understand why you would write a book from the heart and then decide not to publish it. But it’s a daunting prospect to spend all those hours writing and not publish it!
      The idea of putting my inner self out there to be judged by the world does scare me. But I guess you need to have a powerful reason – beyond the personal – for sharing your life story to make it worth the risk. I guess my key motivator would be the hope that I would help other mothers, who may be experiencing some of the challenges I faced.
      I really appreciate your enthusiasm for my work Dom, it is really lovely and means so much to me. Thank you. Summer xxx

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