Recently I’ve had a couple of excellent conversations about writing , and a couple more specifically looking at the border between truth and fiction.
Pablo Picasso said art is the lie that tells the truth. Sounds right to me. Sounds true to a lot of writers. Off the top of my head, I can think of at least two books on writing that have a spinoff of that phrase in the title.
If the goal of fiction is to have the reader suspend disbelief, there has to be enough the reader can understand and relate to in order to do so. In walks truth. How much? That’s the $60 question, isn’t it? Personally, I think that’s where the lesson from Greek dramas walks in, it’s all about moderation. Enough reality to make the work relatable, enough fiction to make it an enjoyable read.
Unless, of course, you’re writing a roman a clef (a tell all, a “novel” that shares actual people or events overlaid with a thin veil of fiction). Most of these are interesting only because the protagonist or main event is extraordinary. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of any event or time period in my life that was so exciting, I could carry a reader through four or five hundred manuscript pages with my daily happenings. Certainly not more than one manuscript, and as a writer, I don’t want to stop at one.
When I was a kid and went to the movies, I would get a popcorn, heavily salted, and a box of Sno-Caps (nonpareils). I would proceed to dump the chocolates into the popcorn, and shake them up. I think writing is that treat. Popcorn is the kernels of truth, chocolate the fiction. Closing your eyes and taking a handful of fiction, mostly chocolate, with varying bursts of salted corn breaking through. Enough to enrich the experience, but not so much that the reader risks cracking a tooth on an unpopped kernel. Blogging, for me, is the opposite; mostly popcorn, just enough chocolate sprinkled in to make it interesting to someone besides myself. Yanno, all six of my readers.
I think this is the real difference between genre fiction, mainstream or contemporary, and literary fiction. Genre having the most chocolate, the balance shifting as you get into longer and or headier novels.
Our tastes change as we age and mature, tastes change with different eras. Classics are classics because there’s enough truth within them to be timeless, but the fiction they’re dressed in might not be accepted in today’s market. Or tomorrow’s.
I wonder what Ernest Hemingway would make of The Real Housewives. How thick do you like your veil of fiction; gauze, lace, brocade?