When It’s a Mere Story (fake, fake, true)

It is a story, a fib, a lie (if you like). I prefer reading and writing nonfiction (reality), but like any writer, I sometimes make things up and present them as literature. They also surface as fiction or reflections of imagination in my poems.

In my writer’s tool box are words, ideas, experience, knowledge, limited imagination, and scant creativity (I know where to get it), technology (a long list of software and hardware goes here), language, and some ability to read and write. Admitting my shortcomings as a journeyman of letters, I consider every editor I know to be a (god or goddess) helpful resource along with a multitude of other writers, authors, and critics.

I like to work with parable, symbolism, simile, metaphor, allegory and allusion, analogy, and soliloquy in poems and essays. I am talking about verisimilitude (all 14 letters and six syllables), or the appearance of reality or truth. I found that word on a list as I researched this piece.

When it’s not biographical and is just a story, it gets tricky. It’s not the writing. It’s what (WTF) am I talking about? Fiction resides in reality and truth. Fact can likewise be disguised in fiction. Names, dates, situations, and persons are often fictionalized in truth.

I know twins (grandparents) who, as children, were both present at a memorable and emotional family event. They both remember it well. However, when they discuss it, each has a different version of the same event, even though they stood side-by-side as eyewitnesses. Each is telling the truth, but how each one saw it and remembers it is different.

One of my favorite authors is Pat Conroy. Pat wrote autobiographical fiction. His stories were based on his real life: his family, people he knew and loved, his schools, his job as a teacher, and other real events. Indeed, his fiction was based (often heavily) on real life.

Conroy paid a high price in several ways. A lot of people got mad at him. Some fellow writers looked down on his creativity (or lack of) in using real world events and people to write fiction. I like the ties to the real. But that does not mean there was always such an entwinement. Other autobiographical fiction writers include Tim O’Brien, Sylvia Plath, Sandra Cisneros, and many others.

Sometimes I make up a story from a thought or memory, but the reality is only a setting or a trigger. It is not necessarily autobiographical or about current real-life circumstances. It is not a message to someone, not a plot applicable to my personal life, not real at all. Many people assume it is. However, sometimes (often?) it is all of that.

I like the ‘how-to’ memoir book by Tristine Rainer, “Your Life as Story: Discovering the ‘New Autobiography’ and Writing Memoir as Literature.” While one should never intentionally lie (fib?), it may be necessary to fill gaps in events with things that may not be exactly precise, true, and factual.

I have been told that every writer (artist or person) puts part of him- or herself into everything he or she writes. I agree. Still, not everything I write is real, or happened, or is about any real person. It may be about how I feel or what I experience emotionally.

Indeed, it was or is true or partly true, or the true facts as I recall them. Often, for me, my writing is a search for myself – for my truth, my honesty, my story, my interpretation of actual events. Maybe it’s just psycho-babble, but writing seems to be part of me trying to say something about me. I’ve written a memoir. It is unfinished, but I will get back to it.

I wrote a poem about a door. A suggested title was ‘An Ode to Agoraphobia.’ While the poem was not intended to be about any mental condition, after I wrote it, I realized it was clearly about fear of going out into the world. I’ve never had such a fear. When I researched possible submissions, I discovered that some publications only wanted it if I suffered from the malady. I ain’t sayin’ I do when I don’t.

The mag’s policy made sense technically, but it was a true poem about a real emotional or mental state that I can only imagine. I’ve written stories about men committing suicide and people doing all sorts of things I never have or will do. Human behavior, bizarre or normal, is interesting. Fiction and nonfiction rely on interest.

The catch is that when people assume what I write is directly associated with my life, they’re usually correct. People who know me personally would certainly assume autobiographical or nonfictional writing, especially other writers. They know how I work. However, sometimes it is just my overactive Irish blarney oozing onto the page with a bit of imagination peppered with fib to improve the taste.

And that, my dear friends, is the absolute truth.

Look both ways in fact and fiction.
Let reality peek into the gaps of light in everything.

5 thoughts on “When It’s a Mere Story (fake, fake, true)

  1. I have another page with an autobiographical of a segment of my life. My intent was to make it all true, and much if it is, and much of it is mixing the old me and the new me, and try as I might, the story is out of sequence and covers a much larger period than I intended. No one would know this but me, but it’s nearly impossible to write something interesting without mixing events. I think to be accurate I would just have to list a chronology of bullet points and bore everyone to death, including myself.

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  2. A well-written essay, Bill. I’ve had folks ask me if my poetry is from my own personal experience and the answer is yes, except when clearly it’s not, LOL. I tell stories with my poems and as you said I pull ideas from my writer’s toolbox to fill the gaps. It’s as if the lines blur when we write and we weave in and out of reality (some might call that madness – they may be right) I think it’s how we connect with our imagination. Writers, Poets, Artists, Musicians – all the creative arts take us beyond ourselves, and hopefully, we bring back something that makes the world a more interesting place. Mythology is a perfect example….maybe not factual, but there is a lot of truth in those myths! I heard a college professor talk about that the other day – truth versus fact. She said you have to understand there is a difference. Dang, you got me thinking….off I go!

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  3. I strongly identify with the paragraph beginning with Indeed.
    There are two quirky things about writing a blog (for me) — One, people think if I don’t blog about it, it didn’t happen and Two, people think I am writing about them. Neither of these things are true and mustn’t be my business.
    My best writing will be released when certain people pass, and that is a truth I cannot deny. So yeah, plenty of my perspective there.

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