by Joseph Brassey
For January I was paired up with the talented renaissance man, Joseph Brassey, for the 47North Author Blog Swap. I had written a piece on honesty in writing, and Joseph’s article on truth in writing is an interesting read. Enjoy.
The Truth is a beautiful thing. I mean that, without reservation of irony or any other little tonal tack-ons that people so often use when talking about important things. The Truth is multifaceted, as simple as it is complicated. It is deceptive. It is broad ranging, bigger than any one person can ever hope to see in its entirety. It is something nobody can ever claim to completely grasp by themselves.
Right? Right. Now for the other part: The Truth is something for which every storyteller must have only the utmost respect. This is weirdly complicated and frustratingly simple all at once. Mark touched on this when he wrote his piece about Honesty in writing, but I’m going somewhere a little different: I’m talking about those moments when something uncomfortable comes up in the work, a thing that feels true but tickles that fear in the back of the mind that such a thing given voice will drive away would-be readers. It is the same temptation that lies at the root of what causes us as young adults to dress ourselves to the expectations of our peers, disguising or struggling to erase our perceived faults to present a more palatable appearance.
There’s nothing innately wrong with presenting oneself well, mind you. I’m not advocating for bad hygiene, but when we write fiction, telling stories that are not technically factual, we have an obligation to present something with a truth at its core, and not to tell lies for the sake of acceptance. This shouldn’t manifest as a desire to antagonize, or at least I don’t think it should, but it does present itself to me as a willingness to say something even if you know it will make people – people you’d like to buy your books – angry.
Full disclosure is in order here: I’m a fairly contentious person. There’s a harmony that comes with conferring with like-minded individuals that for the longest time gave me a horrible case of the intolerables. I don’t like putting too many labels on it because they end up coming across in a self-aggrandizing way, and descriptors like “rebel” or “devil’s advocate” present a very different picture than do words like “Ornery” or “antagonistic.” Those are more honest. Seeing a theme, here?
When I say that a writer has an obligation to the Truth, I speak to the urge to paint – in their objective voice – something as other than what the creator knows it is. None of us can hope to see the entirety of the full picture. We’re short-lived, small-spanned consciousnesses piloting flesh-ships, each with our own lenses of life experience and priority hierarchies that permit us to see shades of the real. But what we see, we must tell. Excuses, justifications, these don’t serve anyone. Characters can use them, and people can and certainly will, but there’s an honesty as to what the writer knows is actually happening, the meat beneath the skin and hair of dialogue and description, that holds the reality the story reflects.
Somehow this has to be balanced with not falling into the trap of presuming to tell the reader what they should see when they delve into the work. That’s the strange, wonderful thing about text. Especially if the writer is honest and speaks the truth as best they know it, their words will yield a facet of which they were unaware when put in front of the nose of somebody whose life they’ve never known, nor imagined. Your work might hold a truth you’ve not come to imagine that may horrify you when seen by another as much as it will delight. This is the sorcery of fiction, and the magic of writing. This is the strength of Truth. If you shy away from what you see on your page, the work will read false, and falsehood will be evident to the people who see it. But with veracity, truths even you never glimpsed will appear to the people who read it, things they will take from it into their own lives, molding, shaping, transforming.
As far as any creator’s legacy can go, that’s not a bad one.
Joseph Brassey lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife, son, and two cats. In his spare time, he trains in, and teaches, medieval martial arts to members of the armed forces. He has lived on both sides of the continental United States and has worked everywhere from a local newspaper to the frameshop of a crafts store to the smoke-belching interior of a house-siding factory with questionable safety policies. His website and Blog-in-progress is JosephBrassey.com, and he can be found on Twitter and Facebook as well. Joseph’s books can be purchased from Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/Joseph-Brassey/e/B005TAZ8BW.