Truth

What is it?

A few weeks ago Slacktivist (a blog I highly recommend for thoughtful commentary on society and Christianity) did a post about facts, incontrovertible facts and how they are necessary. I agree with nearly everything he says. Facts are truth, and truth is important and beautiful and incontrovertible.

But is it really?

It is a fact to say that the sky is blue. That is truth. It would not be true to say the sky was, for example, orange.

Except…when it is true. (If you’ve never looked at the sky and marveled at the gorgeous orange color it had turned, you need a better quality of sunset.)

Even so simple and incontrovertible a truth as the sky being blue, is not always true depending on the situation. That doesn’t make it less true, or less of a fact…most of the time. A great many facts and truths are undoubtedly less universally assumed to be inarguable than the old “the sky is blue” truism. And yet, when you stop and think about it, the sky is only blue a mere fraction of the time. Frequently it is grey, and for at least half (Alright, sometimes and in some places this is not true either. See what I mean?) of every 24 hour revolution around the sun, the sky is in fact a speckled black (except of course when it is just plain black). This is just one fact that can easily be argued depending on the arguer’s point of view and frame of reference. There are most assuredly others.

You may be asking why I bring up the subject of truth (aside from the aforementioned Slacktivist post) on a blog about writing. The reason is simple. One of the most important lessons a writer learns is to write truly. Write with integrity and honesty. I believe the best writers always do this.

I also believe the best writers lie like champions, at least in print. Even non-fiction writers lie to some extent, if only by omission (after all, no matter how big the book you can’t fit EVERYTHING into it). A good lie is practically a starting requirement for fiction writers of any stripe. Fiction writers start with a lie and make it bigger.

This is quite the conundrum. Write the truth, even when you are weaving lies across the pages.

Fiction starts with a lie, and then the author spends the next 20 or 50 or 500 pages convincing us that the lie is true, if only for a moment. Good fiction makes us believe, while we’re reading, that magical creatures roam the earth, Atlantis was a real city, little old ladies who knit can catch hardened killers and sometimes the girl catches the boy (or romantic partner of her choice, anyway) of her dreams. Any lie written with internal integrity can become Truth. For a moment, anyway.

Truth is beautiful. That is the difference between good fiction and bad fiction. Bad fiction (differentiated from bad writing, which is a post for another day) has no internal truth to it. It doesn’t make us believe, and without belief there is just a lie.

That is part of why understanding the essence of truth is so important for a writer, I believe. You have to know what it is before you can weave it into your story. Individual truths are ever-changing, but the concept of Truth is immutable, if perhaps difficult to put into words.

Thought for the Week: “Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.” Pablo Picasso

Currently Reading: The Sharing Knife: Beguilement by Lois McMaster Bujold


Comments

Truth — 4 Comments

  1. I’m not a fan of Barbara Taylor Bradford (although her initials rock, for reasons I know you will understand), but I agree wholeheartedly with her when she says, “A novel is a monumental lie that must have the absolute ring of truth.”

    Two of my writing mottos are, “Tell the truth, tell the truth, tell the truth,” and “Cut deep, with a sharp blade.”

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