There’s a world of difference between truth and fact. Facts can obscure the truth. – Maya Angelou
The difference between the truth and facts is demonstrated in many ways in writing, life and reality TV. Baring the last on that list there of course there are good reasons for it. A novelist I knew used to say, “don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.” I was writing my first book, a memoir, at the time so begged off that advice. It didn’t feel authentic and I thought the story was true and strong as it was. As I grew as a writer and wrote more I understood that what is true is not always factual. Even fiction is based on real life, people we know, conversations we have had. As writers we steal bits of our lives and those around us and manipulate them into a narrative which displays the landscape around us both internal and external. This is at least what we hope to do on our best days. Our job as we sit staring at the blank page is to tell the but best tale we can. One that is inclusive, rings true to the reader and connects the writer and reader on a shared adventure. To do this you must be honest; a false note in writing can pop off the page faster than I can eat a bag of Twizzelers. Anything that pops the reader out of the experience is bad, so if you are lying be good at it and make it based in truth not fact. I know that sounds counter intuitive but follow me here. Facts are what you saw on Dragnet, dry bits of data. Truth is something that is a connector people relate to, it resonates. Sometimes when the truth is ugly they are repulsed. That emotional reaction is based on a cord being struck. If it weren’t true they would not react. It can also be beautiful and resonate in a way that brings someone to tears, to new levels of understanding and relating to others. Our jobs as writers is to work in truth and not fact. Facts are fine and helpful, as long as there is a foundation of truth you are safe.
In writing my a memoir, my sister Chris was reading it and giving me invaluable feedback. She is an avid reader, smart and can hear a lie a mile away. Yes, she is a mother and has worked with grammar school age children for near 30 years so that skill has been honed to a point so sharp it will put your eye out. In reading an early chapter she called me out in a scene I had written about telling a close friend that I had asked to be laid off and was moving away. I had written that section in the nicest way possible—glossing over how I felt and how it had gone horribly wrong. I left out my ugly little emotions and Chris told me that the passage rang false and was fluff. She was correct of course and I had to come to terms with telling my truth. I had to put the ugly on the page because in only putting the facts there I was missing the truth. I did a rewrite and she sent it back telling me I was still holding back and to just tell the truth. The second rewrite I put my crazy on the page and it worked in a literary way as well as on a gut level. When we display ours and others humanity it is messy, illogical and understandably vulnerable. That is where the connection lays my friends: in our vulnerability. You have to be willing to put yourself on the page, not just tell us, show us, help us to take a step into your shoes which are so much like our own.
The functions of creating and editing live in two separate parts of the brain. It’s best to do one at a time. So get it all down in an unorganized mess the first time around, you can edit later. Include what you saw, felt and tasted, with details that mean something to you or your character. If your characters are not real to you they won’t be to us. Trust me when I am working on fiction I have trouble separating who I was talking to about what, and some of those folks are characters. Granted I am a huge nut-ball but I can write characters you want to hang out with and know. If you are writing a café review, let us smell, taste and experience everything that you did. What did the food do on your tongue? How was the atmosphere? I am not interested in a list of items on the menu, hell I can read the menu on line, tell me details of your experience, they are essential to transport me the reader. This is true for blogs and editorials as well; I want to know what you think and so much more. Put the data, the facts in context so there is truth there, so the reader connects and shares the experience, is educated and moved. That is our job folks, let’s be careful out there!