When Fiction Is No Stranger To Truth

I admit it; I ask, “Why, what, and how?” more than most two and three year olds do.  While this has been known to irritate my friends and husband, sometimes the results are valuable and certainly worth knowing.

As I was writing my first novel, I wanted to make sure that the characters were strong.  You see, most books have a very basic story.  Piers Anthony and a lot of his Xanth series can be summed up into:

1.      The main character has a question that he/she/they can’t answer or a conflict they don’t know how to resolve.

2.      They go see the magician of information.  He sends them on a quest or errand. (It’s been a while, so there might be some when they go on a quest without the magician and I just don’t remember, but regardless, a quest is involved.)

3.      By the end of the book, their question has been answered or the conflict resolved via the quest.

And at a deeper level, they all follow Joseph Campbell’s theory of The Hero’s Journey.

Put that way it doesn’t seem like anyone could read more than 1-2 books without losing interest, but there are 34 published books in the series with one in production for this year and another being written to be released next year.  I’ve read over 20 of them.  Why do I and thousands of others keep reading what is, at its most basic level, the same story?  Although I love the puns, it isn’t just because they’re filled with great puns.

We read them because the ‘why, what, and how’ intrigues us and Anthony uses those questions to create strong characters we relate to.  How is this character going to get out of a tricky situation?  Why would someone behave that way?  How will they ever change enough to accomplish their task?  And combined with the ups and downs of the journey each character must take, the author entertains us with pure fun.

While I could resolve character conflicts with a mysterious “it just is,” that wouldn’t allow you to bond with them.  The personality of each character has to remain intact and they have to act from that personality or the story feels fake.  I can ask you to suspend some belief, but there has to be enough reality in the characters’ behaviors and actions for you to remain absorbed in the story or it is nothing more than mindless entertainment.  I enjoy mindless entertainment sometimes, but it’s nothing compared to a good book.

My characters face conflict and have to solve it.  Sometimes that means that they need to see themselves for who they truly are; they have to be honest with themselves or they’ll just keep having the same behavior and getting the same results.  Sometimes it means they need to do things they don’t like.  Sometimes it means they have to grow.  And sometimes it means that I need to bring in another character because they can’t get there by themselves.  Occasionally the conflict isn’t resolvable, but even then, it has to mimic what we know as real life or you feel like I took the easy way out as an author.

I never looked at my life like a story, but after writing a novel, that’s changed.  You’ve heard the saying that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction, but I discovered that sometimes fiction is no stranger to truth.  We all have the basic story of:

1.      We’re born and as we grow, we have questions and conflicts.

2.      We live our lives, often searching for answers and resolutions.

3.      We die having learned many things along the way.

Like every story, it’s the ‘why, what, and how’ that makes us unique, answers our questions, and solves our conflicts.

Next time you’re stuck with a question you can’t answer or a conflict you can’t resolve, imagine you’re a fictional character.  If you can write the character to a good resolution in a way that isn’t mindless entertainment, you can solve your real life problem with a similar approach.  Just like in a good book, most conflicts are resolvable…it just takes some creativity on the author’s part.

Until next time, may the choices you make and the actions you take today, create a healthier ‘you’ tomorrow!


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