Tuesday, June 23, 2009

My Fiction is Stranger than Truth

I am so tired of people saying truth is stranger than fiction. First of all I’ve read some pretty strange fiction. Try reading a little Terry Prachett or Kurt Vonnegut or Neil Gaiman etc… and then tell me truth is stranger than fiction.

But, hey, I’m a reasonable man. Let’s say that it is sometimes true that truth is stranger than fiction. I will be the first to admit and even celebrate the capacity of humans to do absurdly foolish things. Absurdly brave sometimes, absurdly everything really. I will say this: fiction is restrained by the need for believability; reality has no such constraints.

My world, the one I’m creating, has to have certain rules. If you’re writing realistic fiction those rules will generally be resistant to absurd coincidences. Naturally, absurd coincidences happen all the time in the real world, but we accept these after a bit of head shaking. If they happen in fiction we cry, “foul” and slam the book shut. Is this fair? No, I say. A thousand times no. But it’s true that we will not tolerate in our fiction what we will tolerate in our real lives or in our non-fiction. So, it seems, we hold our fiction to a higher standard of believability than our non-fiction. Go figure.

I get around this “fiction cannot be as strange as truth” problem by writing absurd fiction. I have little green men who actually do invade Earth. What are you going to do with that? If your world, the one you create, is fantastical you can of course be as strange as you want. In other words, the truth has nothing on me. In my world FICTION IS STRANGER THAN TRUTH.


Taylor K. said...

A big "here, here" from me on this. The need of things to be realistic to the reader can make things difficult. For instance, if a massive earthquake happened in the middle of a story for no reason except it happened would be seen as contrived, but such things actually happen in reality. Tornadoes don't just happen in reality so Alice can go to Wonderland. Like any natural disaster they just happen, and cannot care who or what is in the way. Natural disasters resolve plots in real life, often because they take away who was fighting, or what they were fighting about. Nothing is seen as unrealistic or contrived about this when it really happens, but in a fiction story one must be careful. It is very odd that one can create whole new worlds with highly unbelievable stuff in fiction, but insert realistic coincidence (natural disasters largely being coincidence), and readers often get mad. Doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Brian Yansky said...

Yeah. Your comment makes me think about how we convince the reader in fiction. Why one author makes coincidence or disaster work and another author fails to make it feel real.