My Fiction Is Truer Than Your Lies
September 16, 2021 | By: Blaize
We as a species are story-obsessed. Stories are a universal human experience that goes back well beyond recorded history. Much of what we know about the ancient past comes from stories being told and retold. Stories were a way of carrying forward traditions from one generation to the next. Storytellers, for this reason, have always held an essential role in societies because they bore the responsibility of preserving culture, even into the modern era.
Storytelling has been a universal staple because it serves multiple purposes in a single, cohesive form. There are perhaps two things, though, that set good stories apart from the rest. First, good storytelling entertains. Whether a good story is being told as a live-action movie, as a song, or in something like a novel, it engages the audience in a way that compels them to want to hang on until the very end and want more after the story is over. Storytellers use conflict, pacing, suspense, drama, action, humor, and any number of other techniques to accomplish this. Most stories, especially movies, have high entertainment value. I think of these as “popcorn movies,” because they hold my attention through the story.
There’s a peculiar paradox about storytelling, though: in many cases, the story, something that is not true, is intended to communicate something true, which is the second thing that great storytelling does. A story that can get one thinking about an issue, be it moral, cultural, or social, through the events in the story is a way that stories tell the truth. Some stories that capitalize on this become preachy and moralistic and can invoke thought, but at the expense of entertainment value. Going back to movies, some directors and producers use a movie as a bully pulpit to make pointed political statements. This kind of browbeating can be a turnoff for some.
Great storytelling, however, does both without sacrificing one to the other. Some of the greatest storytellers to have existed used this technique. Jesus used stories in the form of parables to describe moral truths or reveal things about God. Even non-Christians recognize memorable parables like the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son. Aesop used fables to talk about moral truths through his animated, pithy, allegories. Hans Christian Andersen is perhaps a more modern example of this with fairytales like The Ugly Duckling or The Emperor’s New Clothes to similar ends.
When it comes to the truth of stories, Aesop’s fables are probably more on the nose. Jesus’ parables, however, were intentionally vague for a reason. This may seem paradoxical, considering Jesus was trying to communicate the truth, but Jesus also wanted to ensure that those hearing the parables were seeking the truth. Jesus used this approach to allow others to infer the truth inductively while the rest just merely heard an interesting story. Similarly, in writing The Emperor’s New Clothes, Hans Christian Andersen made a profound social commentary while the story is utterly ridiculous, silly, and comical.
Beyond the paradox of storytelling, there’s a certain irony about it, too: a story is fiction that tells truth, but therein we also contend with “nonfiction” that tells lies. Now, it’s crucial to distinguish fiction from lies. Lies try to create an allusion of truth with the intent to deceive, and may even be intent on explaining the truth but fail because they purport false information. Fiction, however, does not purport statements as factual, nor does it intend to deceive. One reason that many may find some lies so compelling though is that, generally speaking, a good story makes sense. Stories, be they fiction or lies, present their respective world in a logically cohesive manner. In the same way, our minds want the world around us to make sense. When something does not make sense, we have a propensity to make up stories to explain away these sorts of things. Ancient myths do this very thing. Modern humans may think of such things as quaint, but, even with modern science and the like, some get carried away by what one might call “modern myths,” such as conspiracy theories.
One thing that makes more modern conspiracy theories so virulent is that they use the exact mechanism that storytellers use. The message is often a coded response, and the storyteller leaves it up to the audience to figure out the meaning.
I don’t claim to be a great storyteller, but I always aspire to be better. In my writing, I want to provide my readers with an engaging story that they will enjoy from beginning to end in the hours they will spend with my books. I am always learning new tricks, critiquing my habits, adopting new ones, and changing as a writer. At the same time, I want to speak the truth. I am certainly not afraid to explore ideas, some of which may be hot-button issues. In a way, I feel it’s almost a moral imperative to do so in fiction. If done right, fiction tells more truth than lies. Fiction, however, affords more latitude than writing something like an essay because it abstracts the problems away from the social and political climate and inserts them into an imagined world. Some can read for entertainment and never pick up on the nuances. In contrast, others who read for meaning will see them and hopefully think about what is said.
In any case, I’m looking forward to publishing my next novel, Legacy of the Legend. I hope it will entertain and provoke thought simultaneously.