Writerly Concerns #11

Your (used literally) Reality is Showing

Ruminations of Truth and Fiction

There are thousands of quotes about fiction. Here’s a few. Not in depth, just for the sake of this rumination.

From E.M. Forster’s Howards End – Actual life is full of false clues and sign-posts that lead nowhere.  Taken out of context it still works. The point in the discussion this comes from is that life is unmanageable. That morality and preparedness are useless. A point that makes fiction, as explained to me by an editor one time as “the place where we can cut the shaggy dog elliptical dialogue and other messes of reality.” Where we can introduce enough humanity and emotion to make a direct point, have direct impact, take direct action. Unlike the standing in a canoe feeling real life often offers.

Truth is Stranger than Fiction – I will send you here for the story on that quote. Again, the consensus is that Fiction is bound by rules and imagination and is thereby constrained. Truth is not bound by anything.

David Foster Wallace’s take, that I will have to paraphrase because I can’t find it right now, is Fiction and Truth are not so dissimilar. I’m not sure if that was was a reference to the “realism” school of fiction writing, or the fact that if you look around the world is full of stream of consciousness weirdness. And if you look at it that way, Truth and Fiction are the same thing. One person’s unthinkable Truths are someone else’s Fictions. Further on that –

Consider Thoreau’s Walden – The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. A friend said to me recently, “We all live the same lives in different houses.” The Grand Illusion. Maybe the details change. But to me, like Fiction, Truth is limited by perception. We cannot conceive of an unknown Truth, therefore acknowledge it, if it is beyond our comprehension. Something so bizarre could happen, something we never saw coming, to make Truth all the more strange. But until it happens we are back to square one. Morality and all the other tactile preparedness routines, all the ways we can arm ourselves against unmanageable Truth are futile because all we understand of Truth is what we know. And it’s the unknown that blindsides us. And in Truth? We are never bitten on the ass by anything unheard of, merely mosquitos (metaphorically) that slipped in the back door when we let the dog out to pee.

Why all of this? Truth or Fiction, the Lie that Tells a Truth, the Truth that Tells a Lie? Lying in the face of truth? There’s a big one. It could be a live talking heads news show or a Fifties J.D. MacDonald novel or staggeringly deep Noir-ish psychodrama about losers and lives of lies and deceit or it could be in the kitchen. Well, the why of all of this is that I agree with Wallace. Because I have seen enough and heard enough and lived enough “Fiction” venues playing out as someone’s Truth in the last couple of years to last me the rest of my lifetime.

On top of that the question has been asked “What happened to Happy Endings?” (No, not a Travolta massage). I don’t know.

Even worse, as a proponent of bringing back the Happy Ending I discover they are, indeed, fantasy beyond my grasp to compose. I can’t get there from here. Once I got the characters dirty I didn’t/don’t have an answer for them. Forgiveness? Understanding? Even ignorance. Once the sheen is gone, it’s gone, and I haven’t found the magic bottle of As Seen on TV Happy Ending renewal, complete with microfiber polish cloth, that will help.

The answer, for the record, and this might sound facetious to what happened to the Happy Ending is that a lot of people literate enough to write, even awkwardly, are too old or smarter than I am and have known better all along.

Baggage is baggage. Truth, once it invades Fiction, becomes the incomprehensible, the hurdle no one can jump, the leap of faith no one can take, the suspension of belief or disbelief no one can quite buy into. Because Truth sucks. Escaping it is impossible. That’s what it has over Fiction. If you let your Fiction get away from you with dirty Truths, or your truths with dirty Fiction that MacDonald can’t set straight with at least one or maybe two well placed problem-solving murders, then we’re back to the Seventies where the bad guys win every once in a while. Or more often than not.

Truth, or Fiction? Keep them separate. Once cross contaminated a lot of work gets sent rolling down the drain. Along with a lot of belief systems we are unarmed against and ill prepared to manage. Don’t let dirty Truth ruin your Fiction.

Published by

Phil Huston


14 thoughts on “Writerly Concerns #11”

  1. Truth is often unbelievable, whereas fiction needs to be? Fiction that doesn’t have verisimilitude, is so fantastical that it’s instantly dismissed, has failed. If one tells a true tale, yet it feels unbelievable, then so be it — it’s biographical. But fiction must contain itself within the boundaries of reasonableness?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Those are the discussions. I think they are similar, as I said. Food for thought only. Save the last bit which was a tip. Keep your personal shit out of your writing. Because the first place we go when we want to kill someone or feel all kinds of fucked up might be our writing. Write something new and throw it away, don’t let it creep into your fiction unless you can control it. IE – Don;t write yourself into an emotional or other hole you can’t write your way out of the way you want to.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I have a question regarding the explanation of a person’s mind vs the depiction of that person’s sentiment so as to engender understanding from the reader of that same state of mind.

    To show that someone has gone through a sequence of emotional states may take some doing. If that person is satellite to the story, but their mindset is important — at the time — to try and show them transitioning through anger, acceptance, depression, resolve may take a long time and be exhausting for the reader to deal with.

    I’m asking if, at times, one might just flat out tell the reader this person’s mind. Skip the reader’s discovery.

    I’ve got a bad guy in Shadow Shoals who the island people nearly kill but revive and are now killing him with kindness. He’s not that important to the story line, but his personal resolution of his predicament must be communicated.

    “Dred Rowland’s mind, having passed through its own internal trauma, had worked through his predicament: trapped, wounded and yet apparently in no danger from this band of runaways, aside from poisoning or a knife in the night — which he figured he’d already survived else they wouldn’t be caring for him.”

    I could unpack all that into showing. But this passage gets the reader to the point faster. If we just need this secondary character to have acquired a certain state of mind — at what point do we forgo the appropriate showing treatment and just explain it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My opinion – there are only two ways to deal with that.As you have, or have him confessing it to someone. There is no easy way to collapse time like the video guys. No spinning calendars with tons of strife imagery in the background. Getting who he is out in the open is as simple as putting him in a scene wherever he needs to startup. POV is the other issue. You’re narrating when he could as easily have shaken his head, surveyed his surroundings, His mind had passed (ing not) a simple comma if you want to drop the second had. There’s your stumbling block ing or ed? Had or having had (choicely redundant). When in a quandrylike this, I’m not yelling, get down in the scene with characters. Get out of your author’s chair and get right there with them. Now you have internal dialogue instead of Anonymole now takes you out of the story with this writerly observation.
      I saw this not an hour ago in a big time author’s paperback at the grocery store. “Blah blah.” he said, knowing how this conversation went would determine if he lived or died. Bland bland bland and reader pablum. OMG! He’s gonna die!
      Why not X knew this conversation might/would/could be the one that let him see the sunrise again, or live or die. No ing, no said. Set up the scene, set up the line instead of delivering it and then explaining it. Wasted word count. Go to the heart of the line and the action contingent on it instead of pussing out and explaining it. Make it work. Pow. Write without contrivance or bullshit. Easier said than done, and I’m no saint, but that’s the goal. In my opinion.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Don’t isn’t in there. Your way is one of two available, neither have ever made me happy. However your take on internal dialogue works, I just suggest to make it more immediate. I already see a sweaty beat up guy in a tent, but I want to be there, see him scan the inside of the tent and rub his whiskery chin while he deliberates his situation. Hear him wheeze or cough or rearrange his junk while he does it. This is a perfect opportunity to drop nuggets of character and make him real. That’s up to you. He’s defined in your head. Get him on paper.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I think THG needs to go on safari. Get some real action going. Something calamitous, something gripping. Moving to London and falling into pond is meh. Maybe she’s immune to the “28 Months” Rabies virus. Or she gets impregnated by a supergenius sperm but the kid turns out to be a sociopath (comes with the territory I guess). Or the Gulfstream gets cut off plunging Europe into an ice age and she has to survive.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. She IS on safari. Hell, I have 3 years of episodic binge reading to get through. You want the anony version of “she went to England and got into all sorts of man shit, kidnapped by the dope dealing sexslave selling son of landed gentry, falls for a…moves back to LA where Jackson has a team of…the end.”? It’s coming. This isn’t an action piece, it’s a coming of age feminism story. Bobby B is on the back burner with murder and warehouse fires and intrigue and corporate espionage and professional arsonists being fed to gators. You didn’t like THG 1 because it was a potty mouth Elmore Leonard style coming of age story where people have to talk to each other, not ghosts or goblins or mythical beings that talk like pirates. THG is a growing up trying to figure out how to make a difference saga in the vein of modern realism sans the edge because I think understated humor and a touch of cerebral concept in a Taco Bell is just as valid as a fart in church. It is a vision quest without any magic stones or dragons or wands or spells.or dystopian environs. Dragons and witches and snakes aren’t always that obvious in the real world, but there they are. Porn producers, horny photographers and professors, guys with a scam to jack a woman for anything, fairy godmothers that are lesbian business women, Prince Charming is a piano playing damsel in distress rescuer. Jesus, blatantly a combo of Beauty and the Beast and Rapunzel, Disney versions. I keep saying this but think Captain Blood or Zoro as concept, only we get to see what the girl is doing while all the pirating is going on. Not sitting in her room pining. This is not you. This is inter relational, not, as you’re trying to find all the time, equational solutions for adventure narrative. Truth, and I respect your input, a friend once said I write for women. Not directly true, but it is about how a feminist finds her feet and a guy who, sometimes inadvertently, helps in a time when all of that, what we were and what we were told to be and what needs to be was in flux. Not your kind of book. You write talking spiders and the magic eyeball and good and evil in the space time alternative dimension stuff. Possibly more sale-able and valid than anything I write. But usually I write people. Sometimes with guns and knives and always with a touch of poignancy, because everyone needs to feel a touch of place that evokes home. There is method to my madness, and this is full blown draft, so hell yeah it’s slow.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Geez! Blanking entter key!! Anyway, i need to catch up on many of your posts. We’ve been away on a long vacay so i’m behind. Great posts. I have missed yours.


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