Weekly Writing Memo: Writing TruthPosted: August 3, 2016
One of the things that is distinct about great writing is that it delivers a truth. This doesn’t mean the narrator or characters have to tell the truth, but it does mean that the writing has to be true to the story. Even if your characters or narrators are liars, their actions and their words have to be true to who they are. There are three main ways stories tell the truth:
Truth of Story
For a story to read realistic, it has to stay true to itself unless the writer has a very big reason to write it another way. However the events of your story happen, they have to be the true way they would happen and not forced for the writer’s preference. For example, in the Harry Potter novels, people had to die whether JK Rowling liked it or not. If she let everyone survive through all of the conflict within the novels she would be lying to her audience for the sake of a happy ending. In wars, people die, and without that death the story is a lie.
Whatever type of story you are writing, you have to stay true to the type of story. People die, couples break up, families are torn apart, and bad things happen. You can’t protect your characters and your audience by lying to them. If you do, the story will lose its depth and worth, and the audience will know it.
Truth of Character
Characters in stories have to stay true to who they are. If they behave out of character for the sake of progressing the plot, then the character will often lose the audience. The audience is not dumb and they know when the writer is manipulating a character for the sake of the plot. You can’t force your characters to go where you want them to. Every action has to be justified by your characters motivations. By staying true to your characters, you are strengthening your plot and your story, and your audience will buy into your story more.
Finally, every story has a big truth to it. In Harry Potter the truth was that people die, good has to make sacrifices to defeat evil, and that evil can be an alluring force that turns good people bad. I’m sure there are others, but these are some of the big truths and themes that the Harry Potter stories bring out in their telling. So what are your story’s truths? What is your story saying about the world? Whatever it is, make sure it is truth and not wishful thinking or a fairytale unless you are doing it deliberately.
A lot of children’s stories will have morals that aren’t always true, such as “good always triumphs.” These kinds of stories when given to adult audiences don’t work as well because adults generally know that they aren’t true for how the world works. By telling the truth about the world to your audience, you are creating a story with more depth. Of course, what is true for some is not true for all, but write the truth the best you can.
The purpose of all this is to say that you can’t lie to your audience. Your audience is buying into your story, and if you lie to them they will know and they will almost always be disappointed. You can have characters and narrators that lie, but you the writer cannot lie. Whatever you do, do it with purpose, and with truth, and if you do that, your story will be the better for it.
Robin Conley offers great writing advice most Wednesdays on Writing to be Read. If you just can’t wait until next week to find out more, you can pop into her blog, Author the World, for more tips, or a weekly writing prompt.