January 9, 2012

Never Let The Facts Get in the Way: Written by David

"Never let the facts get in the way of a good story"~Mark Twain

First of all, let me just say, I for one have always heard that quote given to Hemingway, but apparently it is Twain who first said it. At least according to the Internet.

One of the hardest things in life is to write the truth. Don't believe me? Try to write a story about yourself. Then, try writing the same story, except use a real person you know, a friend or family member. Then write the same story a third time with a completely fictional character of your own creation. Which one is the easiest to write?

Ignoring the fact that you've just written the same story three times, I'd be willing to bet it's the final one.

You might be wondering what the above exercise has to do with writing about your obsessions. Sure, creating a fictional character is one thing, but if you're trying to write about something you're passionate about, it should be way easier than trying to write about someone you know very well.

Here's the thing though, and the reason for the exercise. It's so difficult to write about ourselves because we know so much about ourselves that we feel awkward if we don't get all of the details into the story. But including all of the details is not writing. It's detailing. So when we write about someone else we know, we may know a lot of their habits but we tend to gloss over the unimportant ones, because we gloss over them when we interact with those same people. When we write a character out of thin air we ignore even more unimportant details. Does it matter that Jim has a scar on his left pinky toe or not? Unless it's important to the story, the author may never even think about Jim's pinky toe. Or any other unimportant details.

This same logic holds true for our obsessions. When you write something that includes a topic you're both knowledgeable and interested in, you run the risk of putting in so much detail that you feel is important, while ignoring the story. In the case of poetry, you might be including so many details that you focus too much on the trope, not on the poem itself. Either way, you've let the facts get in the way of your art, and at that point you cease being an artist.

However, don't take this warning to mean that you cannot include pieces of lore in your stories. If you look at some of your own favorite pieces of writing, they're probably chock full of specialized knowledge that the author has seamlessly included in order to strengthen the story. Let's look at Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club. Included in this novel are fairly elaborate detailings of bomb making, film reel changes, and of course a lot of details on the process of fighting and the physical changes that happen. Notice though, that all of this detail goes into strengthening the story of Tyler Durden and the Fight Club. Never do the details overshadow the story.

While these details are certainly correct and show how an author can include their lore in their work, Fight Club also shows us something in its handling of Dissociative Identity Disorder, which we see other artists do in varying bodies of work. If an artist is doing their job, they don't even have to have the correct facts about their subject for their work to be exceptional\ and respected. We as an audience will always choose the story over the facts. If this wasn't true, Michael Bay wouldn't have a career, among many others.

So to come around full circle, let me reiterate that we as artists should never let the facts get in the way of a good story for two reasons. One, we risk letting the details overwhelm the story. But second, if we do our jobs well the audience won't care anyway!

David is one of the founders and editors of Obsession Literary Magazine and the maintainer of Obsession's blog.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for being here. I was checking the "never let..." quote for authorship and landed on your site. I like what you're doing. How do I join you. Marian X www.marianx.com