What does it mean to tell the truth in fiction?

Apr 7, 2007Archive

One of my favorite workshops to teach is the importance of truth. How does that work in fiction? How can untruth be truth? The following are my notes from the class.

Quotes to Consider:

“Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.” — Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

“The secret of good writing is telling the truth.” — Gordon Lish

The importance of truth.

*Some scriptures to consider: (Ephesians 4:15, John 14:6, John 1:14)
*Jesus said “I tell you the truth” 78 times in Scripture
*Satan is the antithesis to truth. (John 8:44)
*Lying is also the native language of our world and even the Christian world. Telling the truth, then, is a subversive act. It deals a decisive blow to the Enemy of our souls. Writing the truth in story form is spiritual warfare. It advances the Kingdom of God.

Why don’t we write the truth?

*We are afraid—of relatives, of fellow Christians, of our reputation, of what others will think of us.
*We worry that others will tie our characters to us, so we fail to make our characters breathe like humans.
*We won’t admit the truth to ourselves; therefore, we can’t articulate it to others in a story.
*We want and love control.
*We love the applause of man over the applause of heaven (Galatians 1:10)
*We think hiding works (David).
*We have a wrong view of Jesus as Love and Truth. Jesus was not always nice. His words were not always kind and sweet. But we’ve typified Him thus.
*The more we are able to grapple with truth in our hearts, even the difficult, painful truth that we are needy and helpless and sinful, the more our fiction will reflect reality, the more it will transform (by the power of the Holy Spirit) our readers.

Why is writing the truth important?

*It gives the opportunity for God to be glorified. (2 Corinthians 4:7)
*It invites others into community.
*Because we represent the God of truth. If we shirk from telling it, we don’t represent Him well.
*It opens others’ eyes so they can see Jesus.
*It frees people. (John 8:32, 36)
*It unmasks.

Isn’t fiction ‘non-truth’?

*Jesus told parables of truth.
*The Bible is not merely a handbook, a book of be-a-good-Christian lists; it’s a mystery, an ever-unfolding redemptive story.
*Stories knit generations together by preserving truth.

But what about the dark side of life? Should we expose it all? What about profanity?

· Telling the truth is the ultimate risk.
· The beauty of redemption shines brighter on a black canvas. “I refuse to become complicit with evil by characterizing that nasty, nasty stuff in a way that softens its destructive bite. Doing so would not only be deceptive but it would undermine the great victory won by our hero in His majestic defeat of this terrible villain called evil.” (Ted Dekker, www.teddecker.com, blog entry 1/28/06).
· Honor Jesus with your words
· Remember Sam’s words: “It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad has happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you.” (Script, The Two Towers movie)

So what? How do we do we infuse truth into our stories?

*First, be willing to “go there” with Jesus, to let Him heal wounded parts of you.
*Let the story tell the truth.
*Consider God’s timing in it all. You may be far too close to a situation to spill it onto the page. Let it percolate. But don’t run away from it either, even if the market doesn’t seem ready
*Study how Jesus took principles of truth and set them into parables.

Dare to let the truth Jesus has burned into you set you free, and, ultimately, set your readers free.