Thursday, February 21, 2013

Soapbox Series #7 (Or Reading, 'Riting, Ranting) -- Fiction Writers Telling Lies

You've heard it, haven't you?

Albert Camus said: "Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth."

Stephen King said, "Fiction is the truth inside the lie."

William Faulkner said, "A writer is congenitally unable to tell the truth, and that is why we call what he writes fiction."

Neil Gaiman said, "Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things, and which can sometimes pay the rent."

Marcia said, "Balderdash."

Congenitally unable to tell the truth? Actually, the rest of the quotes come much closer to getting it right. They get that fiction is a vehicle for truth, in which novelists are highly interested or they wouldn't write novels.

Still, I have to quibble with that lie part. In fact, it drives me bananas, and this is why: It comes across as a shallow attempt to get a laugh or appear wise, when actually it's much too facile a comparison  for these intelligent thinkers to let themselves get away with.

Does knowledge equal wisdom? No. Do facts equal truth? No. Does invention equal lies? Of course not!

I have to say, though: there's a book for writers by Lawrence Block called Telling Lies for Fun and Profit. That's just plain witty and cute, and brings a smile. Probably because it doesn't take itself seriously.

So -- what do you think? Are fiction writers lying when they create a story that everyone knows from the start is not happening to real people, named those names, in exactly that way?


Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Really good point! We are just inventing new stories.

Kim Van Sickler said...

I think what these writers are getting at is that fiction writers have a great vehicle for exposing universal truths. Obviously their stories are fabricated, but the underlying motives, personalities, and observations about society might be spot on. They don't have to be. But fiction can be a powerful tool to delve into and explore important and sensitive issues.

Barbara Watson said...

So interesting! As an English teacher, I get the 'what does this have to do with real life?' question sometimes. I respond by addressing that fiction teaches us about the world around us, and it helps us evaluate characters, their choices, their problems, and their stories. I then add that what we glean from fiction is applied to our own stories, our lives. So the whole truth/lies doesn't matter to me. It's what we learn that does.

Faith E. Hough said...

I loved your comments on my blog regarding this topic, particularly making the distinction between lying and invention, as honestly I've never been bothered by the bit of tongue in cheek employed by those authors. With the exception of Faulkner, I guess, I think every serious author would profess a profound commitment to truth-telling... There is a Madeleine L'Engle quote I love: “Our truest response to the irrationality of the world is to paint or sing or write, for only in such response do we find truth.”
Still, I think the greatest problem lies with the view the world takes of these "poor souls who write fiction instead of doing something important with their lives." Now THAT is a hard lie to fight, and I believe many authors find humor the best way to do so--not to puff themselves up while they rack up laughs, but to shrug the belittling comments off their shoulders. In fact, another L'Engle quote comes to mind: “The only way to cope with something deadly serious is to try to treat it a little lightly.” :)
Thanks for bringing up this topic, Marcia! I'm always excited about blog posts that really get me thinking.

Janet said...

Telling Lies for Fun and Profit sounds like a neat book. I write for fun, but would love to some day make a profit at it, too.

Mirka Breen said...

If by “truth” we mean a set of facts, then fiction isn’t truthful. If by truth we mean- get to the emotional truth of ourselves/the world we know- then fiction is a great vehicle for being deeply truthful.
I find that in fiction I shed many of the lies I’ve told myself. I was amazed at what my characters had to say and chose to do once they were fictional.

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Marcia said...

Sharon -- That's how I see it.

Kim -- I believe also that this is what they're getting at. I just don't cotton to the "lie" terminology.

Barbara -- Yes. I think fiction is great training in compassion. For me, it's also very often an example of how to face big trouble and stand a chance of coming out a victor.

Faith -- Yes -- writing fiction instead of doing "something important." So often writers tell themselves that lie, too. One of my favorite quotes is "Nonfiction is facts; fiction is truth."

Janet -- Amen to that!

Mirka -- "I find that in fiction I shed many of the lies I've told myself." I love this. I find it's true. :)

Unknown said...

I suck at lying but I can tell you a good story. :D

Neil's comment cracked me up.

Marcia said...

Stina -- "I suck at lying but I can tell you a good story." Love this!

Ruth Schiffmann said...

I did struggle, years ago, wondering if writing fiction were a worthwhile use of my time. I wondered how something that wasn't true could be important. But, I've since learned many important truths through fiction and can spend my time writing without that particular worry now ;)

Marcia said...

Ruth -- I know people who say "I don't have time to read fiction," for just that reason. They're usually believers, and usually they've never taken either Jesus' parables or 2 Samuel 12 into account. I figure if story was Jesus' first approach to people, it's not too shabby a calling. :)

Cynthia Chapman Willis said...

I think of fictional stories as vehicles for illustrating deeper truths. Also, if a lie is a deliberate attempt to deceive or twist a truth, or create a falsehood, then fiction doesn't fit this definition, does it? Fictional stories are, it seems to me, more metaphors than outright lies.