Storytellers thread - Truth

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Og
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Storytellers thread - Truth

Post by Og » Tue Dec 05, 2006 7:28 pm

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

For those who haven't come across that particular saying, it's basically speaking to the talent some people have for embellishing a dull story to make it fun to listen to, facts be damned.

Yet most Story disciples would agree - the Truth is a necessary element of a story if the audience is to relate to it.

The two tenets would seem at odds with each other at first blush, but they certainly co-exist. Think of the way Mark Twain exaggerated his characters and their situations, yet there is a solid humanity and truth to his novels that have allowed them to stay relevant and resonant long after they were penned.

My question is: How far can you bend the Truth before you break your narrative?
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megrar
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Post by megrar » Thu Dec 07, 2006 8:50 am

that depends on how gullible your audience is.

seriously.

many people find sci-fi to be more palatable than fantasy, because instead of magic, which requires a significant suspension of disbelief, you use science to do everything. and there's people that cannot take either of them, and people that can't stand religion, or fiction in general, etc etc.

i'm a pretty gullible reader. many are--we want to be entertained, we want our emotions toyed with. but there are a few things storytellers should keep in mind.

the first one is that once you set up the rules for your story--and every story has its rules, its structure--you must not break them. absolutely must not. if you have this super duper multi-phasic gun thing that disintegrates anything it shoots, then you can't have people miraculously surviving it. if you've set up a character in such a way that he or she can take a serious beating and walk away, then you can't kill him or her off with something cheap (like a tackle. i'm looking at you, horrible movie "van helsing").

the rules are what helps make the story believable. we exist in a structure, and we expect to find structure in our stories. you can make any kind of structure you want, but it has to remain intact throughout the story.

the second sort of goes with the first: your character can be made of contradictions, but he or she still needs to stay "in character." i had a lot of friends take issue with the end of the movie Constantine, because they knew the comic book version, and the comic book version would never give up smoking. however, the movie version was not the same character, and for those unfamiliar with the comics, that action worked.

Truth and expectation go together. that's how we measure truth--with expectations. where do expectations come from? usually, from experience. you set up the structure, you build the readers' expectation/experience with that little world you're showing them. and they use that to understand what's going on.

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Post by jdalton » Sat Dec 09, 2006 4:15 pm

There is a line in V for Vendetta, and I can't remember if it's from the original or just from the movie. It goes something like, "artists use lies to tell the truth, politicians use lies to cover it up." Art, and especially fiction, is essentially a great big lie. It is a simplified picture of the truth, not the truth itself. If I start out a story telling you how I was raised on the tough streets of Vancouver's Downtown East Side and barely made it out of high school alive, I would be lying. But as I went on telling that story, I might be able to weave in Truths that an honest account of my life would not reveal.

This is the case even with supposedly factual storytelling. We all tell lies about our lives all the time- even to ourselves. We simplify some things, exaggerate others, leave parts out, or add in parts that are heard second-hand. If I told you I grew up in Victoria, not Vancouver, and high school was the first time I actually started to enjoy going to school, I would also be lying- though this version is a whole lot closer to the truth than the last one. And it's as close to the truth as you're likely to get out of me- unless you want to sit and listen to the hundreds of small events and details that add to or modify that single sentence.

As for how much you can or should get away with lying in your stories, I think that depends on what kind of a lie it is (does it lead to a bigger Truth?) and what your reader's expectations are. Half-truths are the most dangerous (or powerful) lies anyways.
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Post by neil » Sat Dec 09, 2006 8:57 pm

My question is: How far can you bend the Truth before you break your narrative?
If by "Truth" you mean a relationship between the narrative and the people or events it is based on, I would say that it can be bent infinitely without 'breaking' anything. That's because we don't judge fiction on its factual accuracy (even if it's supposedly based on a true story).

On the other hand, I think that all stories have their own "truth," independent of reality, which is more fragile. This is highly subjective, of course, but I think we all want some sort of coherent point from a narrative, even if it's simply emotional.

So, I think it's important to try to tell the truth about human nature and such, and specific facts are less important. I think that's the basis of your aphorism.

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Post by geckochan » Sat Dec 09, 2006 10:25 pm

I think there are different kinds of "truth". Sure, there's truth in terms of believability, and a story may indeed need to be grounded in a certain amount of this. But I think the more important truth is, as Neil said, something human, which is harder to explain or quantify, but which you recognize immediately if you see a glimpse of it in a story.

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Post by chasecorbeau » Sun Dec 10, 2006 1:06 pm

Fictional Narrative is to Historical Event what Abstract Painting is to Photograph.

The creator gives an impression of the essence of a thing rather than portraying it as a xerox of the original.
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Post by cornpone42 » Tue Dec 26, 2006 8:04 pm

Hm... this is a big question...

I think this is a big question, since we're talking about one of The Intangibles.

In terms of the graphic novel/comic I think there are two great contemporary examples to look at, both equally "true" yet appealing in entirely different ways:

Bechdel's "Fun Home" is a graphic memoir that re-explores childhood once the narrator discovers her father's homosexuality... after his possible (probable?) suicide. It's really interesting, and has influenced some of my own writing of late, how Bechdel uses the water-drop of her father's death and then charts its ripple in the pond of her life (maybe that was stretching it. probably.)

In "Black Hole" (I think Burns wrote it) there's a re-examination of the post-disco pre-Bowie American youth, where a sexual disease running amok among a community of youngsters gives them odd, mutated appearances and forces most to become outcasts. I'd say that pretty much nails the teenage angst of the time right on the head.

As for other narratives... well, people don't necessarily want "truth" as much as they want story. Otherwise all poems would be reduced to "I was thinking of Death," "I feel horny," "I find the current government not to my liking," "Look! Daffodils!" etc. Good stories need a "suspension of disbelief" for the reader to invest in the narrative, thus the huge amount of author's investment in "voice" and the cliche of "show not tell".

In other words, all writing needs evidence. But, say, however terribly written it was, "A Million Little Pieces" had a story to it that manage to sell. And having worked in a bookstore during that fiasco, I can say sales didn't really drop after people found out it was (mostly) a hoax.

First post! :idea:

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Post by Og » Wed Dec 27, 2006 6:39 am

Hell of a first post, Cornpone!

Nice brain you got there... :D You make some excellent, well-reasoned points, you bring up several interesting issues, and you write exceedingly well.

Good to have you along.
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Charlie the choo choo
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Post by Charlie the choo choo » Wed Dec 27, 2006 8:43 am

Writers are liars.
Last edited by Charlie the choo choo on Wed Dec 27, 2006 10:10 am, edited 1 time in total.
To view the last of me, a living frame
For one more picture! in a sheet of flame
I saw them and I knew them all. And yet
Dauntless the slug-horn to my lips I set,
And blew. "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower came."

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cornpone42
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Post by cornpone42 » Wed Dec 27, 2006 10:00 am

^^Thanks!

^Including Stephen King. He may be the biggest liar of them all.

:shock:
If one does not have the capacity to say something beautiful, then they do not have the capacity to say something true.

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