Fiction Tells the Truth
By Sally Berneathy, MRW President
The best fiction stories are the ones that tell the truth.
That sounds like a contradiction, an oxymoron. Fiction is make-believe. Pretend.
Or is it?
Several years ago when my mother began slipping away in the early stages of senility, I wanted to express my feelings on paper. But I didn’t write out my feelings like a diary or a journal. I wrote a story. The characters were fictional. The setting was fictional. The story was fictional. But the story told the truth. The emotions were true, the emotions of a daughter losing a mother while that mother sits beside the daughter.
Romance novels are sometimes considered the “fluffy” stories of the writing industry. But is there any greater truth than two people falling in love? If that ever stops, the human race will disappear off the face of the earth in one generation!
Nobody’s Baby But Mine, a humorous romance novel by Susan Elizabeth Phillips shows the truth of falling in love as well as the truth that judging others with insufficient knowledge can be a huge mistake.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier was published in 1938 and has been continuously in print since then. Millions of readers have hated and feared Mrs. Danvers. She’s a fictional character. But she tells a truth...evil, controlling people are out there. They are real. The second Mrs. de Winter escapes her machinations and finds true love. This is a potential truth we all hope for.
Another classic, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, is a wonderful story with compelling characters. The fictional character of Scout learns many truths as this novel progresses. Like Mrs. Danvers actions, not all truths are good. Tom Robinson’s conviction and subsequent death are tragedies caused by people who judged him unfairly by the color of his skin despite knowing the truth of the situation. At the same time, we see Atticus Finch’s truth, that good people exist, people who will fight for the rights of others. Scout learns an important truth from her relationship with Boo Radley. She and her brother began by fearing him, the universal fear of the unknown. As they get to know Boo, they learn they were wrong to judge him without knowing him. In the end, he is their hero.
What about mysteries? Do they also tell the truth? Edgar Allan Poe is one of my all-time favorite writers. “The Cask of Amontillado” tells the gruesome story of a man, Montressor, who lures his enemy, Fortunato, into the catacombs by the promise of a rare wine, then walls him up alive! This short story actually tells several truths. Fortunato is drunk, arrogant and selfish, and unaware that he shouldn’t trust someone he’s treated cruelly. Montressor seems a little mad, perhaps driven there by Fortunato’s treatment of him. He is bent on revenge. He is sometimes hesitant about completing his revenge, but ultimately is satisfied with his decision. Sometimes revenge can be gratifying.
Do my books tell truths? The murderer is always punished. Good triumphs over evil. Chocolate and Coke can sustain us through trauma and terror. And, last, but not least, ex-husbands should not mess with their red-headed ex-wives.