For a writer, the truth is very complicated. Some of the truest things we write are fiction. And yet, some of the coldest facts we can muster are not nearly the whole story.
Once, long ago, I sent an essay to a literary journal and the editor actually called. Imagine my surprise at a real voice on the phone, thick with smoke, a little older, taking his time. “This isn’t an essay. It’s a short story,” he said, and I didn’t know how to answer.
The call alone and the news of interest were surprise enough, but it was his assessment of the piece that was the shocker.
And, like a country lawyer, he proceeded to trot out his evidence, dragging on his cigarette while I tried to take in his meaning. Character, tone, dialogue, setting—it read like a story to him, he insisted, and there was no convincing him otherwise.
In the end, I agreed to let him publish it as fiction, because what is truth, anyway?
Why, even before a writer puts down a single word, the distortions begin. From the formation of his concept, to the information he chooses to use or discard, to his word choice, to the polish of his sentences in accordance with a certain desired tone . . . at every pass, the writer makes decisions.
And when he’s finished, did he capture the truth? Reasonable minds will differ.
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