"Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't." - Mark Twain
My late father used to tell me that fiction is much more truthful than so-called factual writing. It goes deeper and frees the thinker/writer to share their truest insights.
I, ever his contrarian progeny, argued that this is just a fancy way to justify spending many hours reading about others’ flights of fancy, endless conjuring, and an excuse to play. In this dialogue you could say I played the grownup and he was the kid who made excuses for why he didn’t have to grow up.
I used to write short stories. The stories were fictional but based on bits of reality and, even more, on bits of fictional stories I have read. I was playing with story telling. But all the while I felt there was something not quite respectable about this sort of thing.
Historians- now here were the real explorers of human reality. They had a lot of homework, too. They studied and gathered and painstakingly put it together. My father was a writer, a poet and a historian. It was the latter that earned him a living as a teacher.
He had lived a life that itself was an epic chapter of twentieth century Jewish history, surviving the Holocaust and fighting for the establishment of Israel all before he was twenty-one. He was urged to write his memories. He refused, saying, “Autobiographies are exercises in truth-twisting and self-justification.” Another way of calling these nonfiction books, essentially, lies.
The first version of what became The Voice of Thunder was a short story for adults, largely nonfiction. I was careful not to stray from what I remembered. I was careful not to go too far afield from what I had seen with my own eyes. I was careful not to hurt anyone’s feelings. I was so careful, that it was not much of a story.
Many years later I went out on a limb, took a few elements from the old story, and made a fictional story for children. This time, because I had already decided I will write a fictional story with characters that weren't there or weren't as I described, the story came together with some deeper and surprising insights. Surprising to me, the writer.
When I expanded that story to a novel for pre-teens, the process of adding fictional characters, have them speak and do things I had no idea they could, was nothing less than shocking. Where did this come from?
I was finally telling the truth, while the story was much more fiction.
This time, too, you were right, father.