Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Art of Writing True Fiction

Where does the truth in "true fiction" lie? Er, I mean, uh, maybe I should say, where doesn't it lie? (I didn't notice the pun until I read the published post, so I've come back to clarify—I think.) This question, however we frame it—and perhaps I'd be better off to say, wherein is True Fiction true?—has a complex answer. To be classified as "true fiction" as I define it requires "truth" on several fronts. It does not, however, require that it be "realistic" fiction, even though that is mainly what I write.

I recently read an interview of Mary Cunningham, whom I interviewed here last month. Reading her answers on a blog called Independent Book Report reinforced my belief that other forms of fiction, including fantasy, scifi, mystery, etc. can have elements of truth as much as realistic fiction can. Mary's "Cynthia's Attic" series which are adventures that are part historical fiction and part time-travel fantasy could be classed as true fiction, too. Maybe you'll see what I'm getting at if I explain what I believe "True Fiction" includes and compare to Mary's interview.

I think that truth in fiction can be met when the author stays true in six ways. I'll discuss them one by one in this and future posts.

First of all, the author must be true to her muse.

Secondly, the author must be true to her characters.

Thirdly, the author must be true to the premises she sets up in the book.

Last, but surely not least, are these three related ideals; the author must be true to his or her conscience, purpose, and audience.

First I'll talk about the often illusive muse. Call it what you want: your inner child, still small voice, imagination, or muse, it comes from deep inside the psyche and can easily be drowned out by the noise and chatter of everyday work and thoughts. To be true to one's muse, a writer must take time to still the busy mind and listen. I find that the best way for me to do this is to get out in nature, in solitude, and walk. Each writer finds his or her own way to invite the muse. Some like nature walks, others meditate, some merely sequester themselves in a room especially set aside for writing. Many combine all three or find some other way to still tumultuous thoughts in order to listen to, or channel, the voice of the muse. However one does it, when the muse is working, the words come, and the writer pens (or types) them. It's almost like taking dictation, wherein the writer, like the reader later, is excited to find out what is going to happen next. At least this is how it is for me as I write fiction.

Self-doubt and negative thinking of any kind, have no place in writing the initial draft of the story or novel. The muse and the inner critic cannot operate at the same time. Let the critic sleep while the muse is frolicking through your mind, giving you great materia, that can later be shaped and polished. As Julia Cameron says in her book, THE RIGHT TO WRITE, "Perfectionism is a primary writer's block." A writer must give herself permission to write badly, I've been told, and I agree. By writing down the ideas as they flow through the unblocked mind, one is being true to the "muse."

I'll be back later to write more about the other aspects of True Fiction.


Janet Grace Riehl said...

Janet, you have insightful things to say about writing and I encourage you to continue to gather your thoughts, including the earlier posts you did for You have a knack for this and could become a book/booklet.

Janet Muirhead Hill said...

Thanks for your encouraging comments, Janet. It's heartwarming to know that my words make sense to another writer.

Alethea Eason said...

Friend of Janet's here, a children's novelist from California who is working hard not to listen to the voices of doubt on the first draft of a sequel I'm working on for my novel HUNGRY that just came out. I usually write fast but I'm working on an element of a story that's a bit complicated. Spent two hours on a half a page the other night, despairing. Read it an hour ago, and it was fine. For me, it's just keeping on keeping on with writing, no matter my relationship with my muse. Yes, fiction can be true, if it speaks the inner truth of the author.

Janet Muirhead Hill said...

Hi Alethea,
Thanks for your comments. I found your novel, HUNGRY on Amazon. From the summary and the reviews, it sounds not only entertaining, but touches on serious issues that today's kids face. Here, I believe, is a good example of a story about aliens as an example of "true Fiction." It fits the criteria I enumerated in my blog post.

I agree. True fiction speaks of the author's inner truth.