April 27th, 2012

The real truth, and other kinds

This is a reworked distillation of the talk I gave on Tuesday at the Renison Writers’ Workshop. I thought I might as well set it down here rather than let it float off into the either.

I don’t do much in the way of autobiographical writing, but I don’t know that I entirely believe such a thing exists anyway. Even if you you wanted to lay out an event on the page exactly as it happened in real life, if you were at all creative or elegant in the presentation of that event it would elide certain truths, boring or irrelevant though they might be. Once you’ve edited out the lady sitting beside you in the emergency room who kept haranging you about Obama for no real reason, the twenty minutes you spent looking for your OHIP card under the seats in your car, and most of the hours you spent unconcious when you have no idea what was happening, the story looks radically different than how it was actually lived. Change everyone’s names for privacy, collapse three different nurses into a single character because they all said basically the same thing and who has time to develop so many characters–you have a convincing case that it’s not true at all, merely *based* on certain personal experiences you may have had.

Seriously, that’s too stupid a conversation to have, even with myself–though believe me, I’ve done it before. Narrative and 100% truth don’t really go together, but neither does (semi) realist fiction and 100% falsity. I think most writers use observation in their writing–the way the sunset looks out the window on the 9th floor, the way their cat tries to hop onto the counter but doesn’t make it, the way someone gets a migraine when she’s really mad. The world permeates fiction, fiction organizes the world, and the older I get the less alarmed I am about discerning the differences.

I sort of feel the same way about narrative non-fiction–there, the balance is probably tipped toward the truth, but you have the same sort of of constraints on you–that of creating a good story. And if you have to fudge a few details to give events the emotional impact they need to on someone who has never met the characters and never will (whether it’s because they don’t know them, or because the characters don’t exist)–that’s the art of writing well, isn’t it?


This actually came out pretty from the Tuesday talk, not sure why–maybe I should’ve actually referred to my notes once in a while. Anyway, I did write something of the pure-unvarnished-truth variety–a list of my most treasured possessions (well, some of them–I’m very materialistic). I actually don’t do much of this sort of personal writing very often–it’s not my scene–but Allyson Latta asked me, and she is both a life-writing expert and a delightful person of the networld, so how could I say no? Also, writing this helped me to notice that pure descriptive writing, without narrative, without plot or character, dialogue or “theme,” is far more likely to be empiracally truthful than it’s paragraphed kin. See for yourself–My Seven Treasure–I bet you can find all these things in my house, looking much as you’d imagine them to!

2 Responses to “The real truth, and other kinds”

  • julia says:

    I enjoyed reading about your Seven Treasures. I’m kind of in love with my engagement ring too (even though I didn’t think I was an engagement ring kinda person and it’s been like 5 years, but STILL!)… and I love my parents’ baby pics as well! (they’re almost as cute as *I* was as a baby)

  • Rebecca says:

    Parents is babies is a very confusing concept–it’s worth looking very hard at the pictures, I think!

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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