The Fact of Fiction

It’s interesting how written fiction can often be more real, more human than written fact.

Over the past few years, I’ve been writing feature stories as part of my work. Lately, I’ve also started a little experiment: was it feasible to support med school, at least partially, with freelance writing jobs? So I’ve been taking in random writing assignments for an hour or two after work, recording how much time and effort they take.

At the same time, I journal and write short poetry on the side. I also participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) last year, producing a rough novel far longer than everything I’ve ever written before. It was then that I realized that I sorely missed delving into a world that is entirely made up, molding characters and watching them interact in my mind.

Basically, I’ve been writing both fiction and fact. And it strikes me as odd, sometimes, how the fiction can be more sincere.

With nonfiction, there is always a brief. Look at it through this angle. This is what we want the readers to find out or feel. Try to make it less negative. Try to make the protagonist heroic. Try to make it informative. Sentimental. Conversational. Provoking. Inspirational. Revolutionary.

And so nonfiction often ends up focusing on one or just a few parts of the proverbial elephant, and becoming deliberately blind to (or, at least, downplaying) all the rest.

While based on real people with whom you conduct real interviews and observation, you don’t get to write everything because it sometimes seems unnecessary or libelous or, well, your boss will probably just not like it. You don’t write the hesitation when they’re talking about something they’re supposedly convinced of. You don’t write the long-winded contentless oration that you suspect is only to distract you from the fact that they don’t actually know what they’re talking about. Sometimes you don’t quite do justice to pain and suffering. Sometimes you overplay the positivity. (I think that this somewhat contributes to the fact that we’ve turned into a society that puts an inordinate value on happiness, while rejecting all other emotions as “negative”. In reality it is healthy to experience all sorts of emotions.)

In writing fiction, I was able to explore raw thought, emotion and behavior. The unexaggerated, matter-of-fact words that often strikes the core of your being more so than the exaggerated truth.

Often, the client actually does not want things to be exaggerated. But when you write things as they are, they say that “you need to look at things more from this angle” anyway. And if it’s just not there, sometimes you have to tweak it a bit even if the whole of your being is screaming at you.

I guess that’s why we need art and fantasy. Sometimes it tells us what is real, far more than the things that actually claim to.

On that note, I’m constantly disturbed by the power there is in those of us who have a way with words. Often, when something is well written, the ordinary person can’t tell truth from fiction anymore. I think this may be the reason why I dislike talking so much, because I’m aware of how much words are capable of manipulating others. And, for the most part, I’d rather that people stay as they are without my intervention.

Or maybe the core of the problem is that, aside from the writing I need to do to pay the bills, I also need to write my own sincere truth in the only way I know.

I need to write in this blog more.


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