Is Fiction More True Than Nonfiction?

Last fall, one of my friends in my writer’s group told me he was trying to read 40 books in a year. That inspired me to do the same this year. I tried to add some variation so as to not become complacent in my reading. This survey has taken me from popular books like The Hunger Games, classics like Of Mice and Men, to the poetry of A.E Houseman, and finally to this book, Tolkien Man and Myth A Literary Life by Joseph Pearce, which is a thorough study of J.R.R. Tolkien and the famous writing group the Inklings. It also centers around the idea of “myth” in the Tolkien sense. Here is what Pearce has to say about the idea of myth in the preface:

“For most modern critics a myth is merely another word for a lie or a falsehood, something which is intrinsically not true. For Tolkien, myth had virtually the opposite meaning. It was the only way that certain transcendent truths could be expressed in intelligible form,” (Pearce, XIII).

I would even go as far as to say myths validate other truths like, fathers should be good, rulers should be stewards and not tyrants of their people, and that individuals should not put limits on following what is right and good – can be best expressed in fiction. The reason is, when we see something as it should be in reality we immediately become suspicious. “They must have dark secrets they keep well hidden,” some may say. “They cannot actually enjoy being a father, or a husband, they are waiting for the right time to bolt,”. However, if you show the very same thing in a story of fiction or “myth”, we can believe it.

Indeed, I am writing fiction and cannot help but think that, although I am not moving into the realm of allegory, the reason we writers write is important. There is usually something being said about something even in the simplest of stories. Even if you did not deliberately mean to, and I can say that I certainly did not start out with philosophical underpinnings, you find as you step back and get outside of your work, you are not just writing about people, but significant things of the human experience. If I were to examine my own writing it would be obviously about revenge, and the importance of remembering history so as not to repeat it, and lastly, and more subtly, forgiveness in the profound sense.

Understanding what you write and why you write may not be significant to you. However, I find it helpful to always be orienting myself to my story, and where my characters are going and what sort of “myths” I am telling. Critics are always going to be looking for themes, and they genuinely sprout up along the way, it might be good to identify them as you work out your stories.

Novel/ Family Update:

On September 24th at 11:48am, Clara Mae was born, my second daughter. Some writers out there might be lamenting the fact that my time to write may be obliterated for the next few months (that very well could be true) and the novel I wished to finish may now be on a permanent hold. Not so. In fact, I don’t think I would have the idea for the next chapter in my book had I not visited the hospital. This lends to my suspicion that as the deepness of life grows (college, marriage, family, etc.) the more your well of creativity is stretched wider and is able to be filled with even more life, enabling the writer to draw from more experiences to be better equipped to share their magnificent stories.

8 thoughts on “Is Fiction More True Than Nonfiction?

  1. You’re right, I’ve found myself not always understanding why I’m writing what I am, but as plots and characters develop, it’s always a good thing to determine what underlying principles and ideals are present, and develop those along the way.

    I also like what you said about life experiences – those amazing things that happen in life (like Clara’s birth for you and your family) that take up so much of our time often actually end up generating more ideas and more opportunity to write about a wider range of things, making you a better equipped and more well rounded writer.

    Thanks for the post!

      1. Yeah, I realized a few weeks ago that I had 4 or 5 short stories from a while back that I had never really wrapped up so I’ve been doing some editing there and thought it would be cool to make a small collection of short stories. So I’m kind of working on that currently which is fun.

  2. Great post, Bob! I couldn’t agree more about truth in fiction…and you made some interesting points about being inspired in places that (seemingly) have nothing to do with what you are working on. I’ve been inspired like that before, but not enough lately.

    Thanks for posting this. I was very encouraged.

  3. Pingback: What’s in a Tale? « Part Time Novel

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