Storytelling is great as long as you call it fiction, when it is.
Is it truth or fiction? Is it news or a calculated lie?
The question of fact or fiction can be a painful one for the storyteller in the family, and my family has been blessed with storytellers. I love to tell a story, just can’t help myself. So I have plenty of experience with this both as part of the audience in my youth, and now as the storyteller in my middle age. I don’t want to call the Bard a liar, nor myself, so I’m quick to call a story fiction.
When the story’s finished, my grown daughters have taken to asking me, “so, is this a true story?” “Yes, not at all, somewhat”–any of these responses preserve the magic of a good story, as long as the response is the truth. The truth as far as I’m able to discern it.
It is the truth that is the scaffold, the raw material woven into the fiction, that makes the story great, I think. We all know that advice, “write what you know”.
Some people, mentally disoriented or ill, fail to understand where the line between truth and fiction is drawn. I’ve even heard that everything we recall and retell is fiction in a sense, as it is biased. It has filtered through our personal set of experiences, desires, needs, hopes, dreams, by the time we share it again, reshaped.
Another group are people who understand where the line is, but use the fiction to tip reaction in their favor. I don’t know a parent who hasn’t contemplated this track. But when it comes to our elected leaders, our philanthropists, our mentors it’s a dangerous undertaking to use fiction and call it fact. A recent issue with “weapons of mass destruction” that didn’t materialize in the real world comes to mind painfully.
Taking fiction a step further and into the popular news media, a strange story was shared today in the link below, a “story” of distorted truth supporting a personal fiction for financial or political gain. Greg Mortenson, climber, author, philanthropist and leader of a non-profit , the Central Asia Institute (CAI), for girls’ educations is caught between conflicting stories of his own.
- Did local people ignore or welcome him and his efforts?
- Is he making things up because he feels ill?
- Is the inconsistency in stories a calculated error?
Our own personal fiction is the death of a news story, a disaster in a politician, stain in a businessman, confounder in most experiments, but part of the internal and renewable treasure of a storyteller.
So, just call it fiction, won’t you?
12 responses to “Our Own Personal Fiction-Just Don’t Call it News”
Your blog post itself is a “story” which “rings true” – It is also poetically elusive and it intrigues. Of specific interest to the writer-for the writer’s romance is writing, and after the habituation of writing over a period of a long life, the line between what has been written, what is being written, and what will be written and life seems, well, not so much blurred as rather merged. The practical issue intrudes when we must take into account that there are others about us-that we live in a world with them. This is a profound topic as well as an elusive one. I look forward to continuing the communication you have begun with this post.
Wayne thank you for building the dialog, and for your beautiful observation, “the writer’s romance is writing”. Yes, writing has overtaken my romantic inclinations. Now you’re prompting realizations for me right and left.
If my fiction writing merged with my idea of what is my “real” life as you say, I might be in a bad place, as much of it is like myth-horrifying. Many good myths and stories frighten on the way toward ultimately inspiring, like Mara did try so very hard to frighten Buddha just before his enlightement. My pscyhe is always quite pleased at the end of a new story, pleased to have worked out the specific problem that was knawing away in a dark quiet corner of my brain. But that story is not my real life.
Is there a difference of significance between “accuracy” and “truth?” Do we read books life Three Cups of Tea to learn the actual, detailed facts of what happened, or to hear the story from the author’s perspective? How reliable is the memory of anyone who participates in an event, anyway? How separated are fact and fiction in our time?
Interesting questions, and lately I’ve been thinking we might have a new genre, fictional nonfiction–where the fact is that writer imagines it and the fiction is the story the writer imagines (like the movie, Don Juan DeMarco with Brando and Depp).
And from one of my favorite mystic poets, I’ve heard “A truth that’s told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent.” William Blake, and the full poem at http://www.artofeurope.com/blake/bla3.htm
What a great idea Sophia, and I so agree. I would rather have the facts separately from the opinion. Like in science when we write a paper we have the “results” which are supposed to be fact, then the “discussion” which is more of interpretation and relates the new information to prior knowledge and future plans. Thanks for sharing this thought, something to look forward to in future journalism. We like to be entertained, but not decieved.
This is very moving and resonates with me very much. And I surprised myself by even laughing at the very end of this post. It’s so true and not often thought about. I think the issue you bring up here is why I am skeptical, analytical and probing even when I hear information. I try to find the grain of truth. However, as you probably know, I am also a huge fan of storytelling! 🙂 So yes, it would be great if people called it what it is. It is either fact or fiction or perhaps “opinion”. Fact being toneless unbiased events, etc. Fiction being inclusive of events that did not occur, etc. And “opinion” being biased, told through the individual’s lens; such as political positions, issues of morality, the telling of interpreted facts or stories, etc. Wonderful thought for the day you’ve shared and sparked :).
I can’t help think of Nora’s words in Keith Donohue’s Angels of Destruction, “The past is no more certain than the future.”
So much of history, even personal history, takes on elements of myth. I think of historian David McCullough talking about great inaccuracies about a famous picture of the signing the Declaration of Independence.
But the personal storyteller must have some moral responsibility. When they willingly sell fiction as fact (for their own gain no less), credibility is really lost in my mind.
This reminds me, I had the thought that perhaps it would be a good idea for things like articles, news, etc, to have a section somewhere in the text for “facts” where the indisputable real events/info is recorded in an area by itself. Perhaps that would make the separation of fact fiction and opinion more easily discernible for the audience. Actually I think that I would read more articles if this was an included section. I sometimes start an article on an issue I find interesting, but stop partway through when I detect how biased the fact is being presented, mixed with the opinion and fiction. And I lose my appetite for the read. If facts were presented clearly and separately I would read those first, and then probably read the rest of the article as well, to see the kind of viewpoint it presented, but at least then I wouldn’t feel like I was being deceived, I guess. Just a thought :).
I agree that credibility is so important to being able to enjoy and use new information we receive in the news. What is worse, censorship or lies? They are different but twin enemies of real communication. Unless you call it fiction of course.
Thank you for pointing me to this very interesting news story today Catherine!
Hi Catherine, I love your point that the personal storyteller must have moral responsibility. One reason I so love myth is the creativity, but in my news, not so much.