Is your fiction just fiction, or is it based in truth?


It’s fun reading some of the questions that come in from this site, usually from writers starting off: maybe they have a rough idea of the novel or screenplay they want to write. Maybe they’re halfway through and for whatever reason something is not quite sticking. I’m really sorry I don’t reply to them all individually, but I’m grateful for these messages. Not least of all because it’s useful to see where people are struggling, and what universal problems people have.

On more than one occasion now I’ve been asked about the overall importance of the story. That is to say, whether a story should always be speaking some higher truth. And with that, a few times now, I’ve been asked if the fictional stories I write talk about things I really believe in. Whether or not there is a higher, ethical message contained in the story. Or some simple propaganda that I’d like to release into the world.

Am I using my trashy thrillers to convey some “higher truths”? Well, you know, I think it’s important not to overthink this kind of thing. To say your story either has to be a didactic sermon in disguise or that it has to run a mile from that, is a false dichotomy.

Yes, many of the things I write are things I believe in and would stand by. They have to be based in some part around the way I feel humans think and act – rightly or wrongly – because I’m trying to create a world for the reader. It’s hard to do that if you don’t believe in some of the premise in the first place.

But if every character was a mere mouthpiece for my views, biases and perspectives, that would not be an interesting story. Everyone in the story would be a cardboard cutout, with no “life” or independent action. When I’m fleshing my story out, the choices and words that they come up with should be a delight and surprise for me too. That’s how I know it’s working.

A book where I’m in total conscious control, and I’m trying to dictate every specific detail, where it all has to confirm to my narrow view of the world? Well, I wouldn’t want to read that book. And if I wouldn’t want to read it, why would anybody else?