Sparked by Words

Posts tagged ‘truth in fiction’

It’s All a Big Lie

Two truths and a lie: 1. My mom called me by a foreign name. 2. When I was a kid, I had a purebred collie named Sugar. 3. I was a Boy Scout.

Two Truths and a Lie is a game my grandkids love to play. It’s a great way to introduce yourself to strangers or even to friends who don’t know as much about you as they think. By the end of this article, you have to figure out which of the three sentences in the first paragraph are truths, which is the lie.

My name is Sharon Lynne Pratt, though my nom de plume is Sharon Bonin-Pratt. Notice the hyphen between my maiden and married last names, important because it makes my author’s name rare. I don’t use it for legal purposes, however, as in signing documents for court judgments or on my driver’s license or applying for astronaut school. (Two truths and a lie – you figure it out.)

I write fiction, meaning I lie all the time. You can’t trust a thing that comes out of my mouth, or a sentence I write in a story. The nature of writing fiction is to present a fabrication of the world, yet reflect a truthful image recognized by readers. “That happened to me! I understand exactly what she wrote! How did he know that about me?” The more history I research, the more science I present, the stronger the scaffold I build for the inventions in my book. I lie – you believe, if I’m good enough.

For outstanding examples of how this has been accomplished by published writers, consider All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr who visited St. Malo to understand the aura of independence and isolation in order to write about its siege and destruction by fire during World War II. The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish evokes the period during which Spinoza was excommunicated from Judaism for heretical thoughts. She researched seventeenth century European Jewish life, revealing the tight strictures and precarious circumstances under which Jews lived and their fear of persecution from Christian fanatics. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini relates the history of twentieth century Afghanistan, the country of his birth. His story describes the end of the monarchy, the resulting war, and the takeover by the Taliban. America’s First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie portrays the life of Martha Jefferson. They carefully referenced many of the actual documents written by Thomas Jefferson and used his own words to evoke his daughter’s life. Those are some of the truths of these books. You’ll have to read them to discover the lies.

Nearly every writer posts this disclaimer, or similar, at the beginning of their novel: This is a work of fiction and any resemblance to real people or events is entirely coincidental. Novel-speak for, “I wrote this book, you didn’t, it’s not about you, and don’t try to steal it.” Statements written to ward against lawsuit for plagiarism, libel, slander, and theft. Sometimes no more effective than wearing garlic to prevent the plague.

A story must resonate with readers, no matter how much history or innovation in the plot and characters. The greatest authors write stories that brilliantly reveal the human condition. We read Doerr, Kadish, Hosseini, Dray and Kamoie, and come away with a punch in the gut that has us flailing on the floor. “I felt that. Gimme more.”

Two truths and a lie about me: My mom called me mumzer, a disparaging word meaning bastard. I thought it was part of my Hebrew name, though it’s Yiddish.  First sentence is true. I was terrified of dogs as a kid and walked blocks out of my way to avoid them. We didn’t have a pet dog until I was fifteen. The dog was a mutt and wasn’t named Sugar. Second sentence is the lie. I was a Boy Scout because my two sons were avid Boy Scouts. (Though never in my life was I a Girl Scout.) I joined and became a trained adult leader. Third sentence is true.

Two truths and a lie about my books: I interview, discover, and research, then tumble everything together in a madhouse of language and invention to write stories. It’s all fiction. Sort of.


Photo of children playing, courtesy: