Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Fiction and Truth Telling - and a thought on "borrowing" - a Break from Advent posts

Fiction is only good if it is true.  That does not mean “factual” (historically or scientifically) or even “verisimilitudinous” (word I made up, meaning ‘resembling real life).  Truth in fiction is about how it reaches down to the human condition and touches us in a way that we say, “Yes, this is right, this is what it means to be human,” even if we do not like the characters or they feel very different from us in background.  Truth in fiction is hard to pin down; we know when it is not there (as in Hallmark Christmas movies, the genre I love to hate) more than we know it is there.

(I should say that Hallmark occasionally gets it right; however, most of them seem to be like the “Church without Christ” in Flannery O’Connor’s novel Wiseblood.  Christmas without Jesus, although there is the random carol sung during a show as background music.)

But we do know when it is there, when the story stays with us, like a good or bad dream we can’t shake, that we can’t dismiss as just a story.  The Dead by James Joyce is like that for me.

Which brings me to another issue:  In our fiction writing, we pull from such deep places within our minds, hearts, and spirits that we sometimes, probably, pull from something that is not entirely “original” and ends up looking like we intentionally plagiarized or stole a name, character, action, idea, or setting.  Has this happened to you, and then you found out about it later?

It did to me, in a very small way, and thankfully I will be able to fix it because the work has not really been published yet.  I wrote and saw produced a play last year, Long Lost Relatives.  It is a farce, not meant to be serious drama at all, meant only to be a fun and entertaining vehicle for the students at our college to learn dramatic production.  However, I used the name of a town “Taylor’s Crossing,” totally forgetting that I had read that in a friend’s first novel!

The friend is Janie Watts Dempsey (name she uses for her fiction) and the book is Moon Over Taylor’s Ridge.  She recently release Return to Taylor’s Crossing, which made me realize something was amiss.  I went back to the first book and found I was the guilty culprit—I stole her town!!  I have since apologized and will change the name of the town to Ramseyville (I like the name Ramsey, for some reason), or to Pierce’s Crossing. 

However, it made me ponder how often I may have, or others may have, borrowed without knowledge because there is so much in our brains that we don’t always easily remember how it got there in the first place.   I think for me that means that “googling” the names of my characters and places, even minor ones, is a first step.   

By the way, both of her books are quite good and I recommend them.  They are on Amazon.

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