Telling lies for a living

Why we write

There is nothing wrong with telling lies for a living. Writers of fiction are not the only ones who do it. So long as there is no intent to commit fraud or harm, why should we not? After all, it is not only writers who tell lies for a living. Poets, artists, singers and songwriters, actors, commedians…

Why do we love these liars, buy their books, music, art and movies? Because we find value in suspending our disbelief, opening our hearts and minds to their lies and finding that most valuable kernel of truth.

Fiction reveals truths

Reality obscures

How does a good fiction writer reveal the truths that reality obscures? There are two ways: by what she tells us, and by what she leaves out of the story.

The story the reader finally reads in your book is like the 10% of the iceberg above the waterline. The rest, the 90% below water is the blood sweat and tears that went into the 10%. All the things the writer knows about the story but left on the ‘cutting room floor’.

So what should be left out? Big blocks of back-story,  The boring bits, the mundane everyday things that happen, the bits of dialogue that translate to ‘Hello, how are you?’ and the ‘Fine thanks. Hasn’t it been hot lately.’ Unfortunately, there’s always lots of interesting information about the characters, lots of intriguing research and darling little scenes. But, anything that slows the pace of the story, anything that drops the reader out of the story, anything that allows the reader to remember that sleep is essential, that phone calls need to be made, housework must be done, that’s what’s left out. Padding, filling, fluff, waffle, anything repeated…you got the idea.

So, what’s in the tip of the iceberg? The story, the whole story and nothing but the story.

Words, Stories and the Heart

Language of the heart

Isn’t this the most wonderful use of words! I was talking to someone recently who was curious about my work as an editor. The book I’m currently working on is a moving story told in approximately 80,000 words. He couldn’t get over that number. How many words! In reality, it’s not an especially large book. Then he confided that he didn’t think he’d ever read that many words at a time, that he’d never read a book.

How sad! I know there are other people out there like him. I’ve met a number of them and recently saw a program about those who are unable to read or write effectively. How does one live without reading? It’s hard for me to imagine living without books and reading.

This made me think though, about how Story is everywhere around us. We use it to amuse, entertain, inform and educate ourselves and others. It’s in the jokes we tell to make people laugh, to illustrate the absurdity of life by exaggeration and fantasy. It’s in the sermons and parables of priests and ministers. It’s in schools and universities, used to illustrate concepts and ideas to assist scholars’ comprehension and understanding.

It’s all over the internet in websites and blogs. It’s on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Instagram where ordinary people can share stories of their lives, their pets, their favourite things, pet peeves, warnings, memes with morales…

The arts are all about story whether it’s in the pictures which tell a thousand words and move us without saying a thing aloud. It’s in the music we listen to when we want to be soothed, stirred or forget ourselves in melody and dance. It’s at theatres in plays, ballets and every other kind of performance. It’s in everything from great literature and novels down to comics, magazines and newspapers.

Turn on the radio or television and there it is, in neat little packages defined by however many minutes or seconds advertisers buy, in news and current affairs, serialised in sitcoms, made-for-tv movies and reruns of blockbuster movies we once bought tickets to see at the cinema. Movies on which mountains of money are spent vying for consumer dollars, Oscars and every other award and accolade for what? For those who tell the best, the worst, the most popular stories.

I can’t imagine what life would be like without reading, without bookcases full of wonderful words and books. But, should the ability to read be taken away, I guess one could find a fix of Story elsewhere. It’s not the same, in my opinion, but for those who cannot read, I guess it’s better than nothing.

What is your favourite form of story?

Story

Truth in lies (1)

Skilful story artists, whether novelist, lyricist, poet or screenwriter, create a deeper, more profound truth using ‘the lie’.

Where does that ‘lie’ come from? In my experience, it percolates in the heart and soul. They take an idea which impacts me deeply, then bubble and boil away until a character, a situation, or a plot emerges, combining to symbolise the heart of a story. My current work in progress centres around the issue of domestic violence.

Using a succession of ‘what if’ questions, using all the empathy and imagination I can muster, I come up with the bare bones of a number of storylines and plots.

From there I research and brainstorm the subject, fleshing it out using a combination empathy, imagination and personal experience, stories I’ve read, heard, seen played out in the lives of others: friends, family or reports in the media, movies, songs until a series of scenes and scenarios emerge.

Distilled over a (usually long) period of time, what I’m aiming for is a blueprint I can use to tell the story of my main characters using their goals, motivations and conflict to concentrate the emotions involved. They struggle, in my current story, against domestic violence, while others see it from all sides.

My aim? Creating empathy in the reader, telling a cracking story which helps them think about and understand the issues and see how people deal with them. The ‘lie’ which, I hope, reveals the truth.

Story

That's what fiction is for...

As a reader, I love learning about people, places, situations and lives I will never have the time or opportunity to live for myself.

One of my favourite books which is an example of this quote about fiction is Richard North Patterson’s “Balance of Power”. It’s an exploration of the gun debate from the points of view of characters on all sides of the issue. I loved trying to understand different points of view, some so foreign and opposite to my own experience, getting some balance on such a huge debate.

Fiction gives a writer the chance to put the characters through their paces, torture them a little with heartwrenching conflict before ensuring they get what they long for and ultimately deserve.