I'm telling you the truth...




Most of David Sedaris' success has come not from the fiction he penned early in his career, but rather the stories from his own life that he gradually shifted to later.  In fact, that's all he writes about these days, and they're far better than most of the things he wrote that were made up outright.  Of course, people can't help but ask if, since these hilarious stories are so funny, are they true?  To which he replies, "They're true enough."

Mark Twain is credited as pointing out that the difference between reality and fiction is that fiction has to make sense.  I'll expand that to stay that stories have to make sense, regardless of whether they're presented as factually true or invented outright.  Sedaris' remark is kind of cryptic, and you can't help but wonder what forms of manipulation occur in the writing process between what happened versus what makes it to the page in order to satisfy the reader's expectation that a tale "makes sense."

I mean, there's lying by omission, and that's an accepted part of the job description for a writer.  After all, as the adage goes, it isn't what you put into a piece but rather what you leave out of it that makes it work.  As with first dates and other job interviews, you can always say too much more easily than not enough.  Leaving out some of the details in a timeline might make this something less than the Warren Report, but you're going to have a more cohesive narrative if you'd just cut to the chase and concentrate more on your segues than trying to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth... because otherwise you'll end up with a few thousand pages of material no one wants to read.

And it isn't just names that get changed to protect the innocent.  Writers misattribute quotes to different characters than really said a line in order to create symmetry in the structure.  They make pithy summaries in place of awkward descriptions   They revise chronologies so information is presented as you need to know it, not necessarily in the order things happened.  All these things are a few shades away from the truth, but we try to get as close as we can.

A lot of the pieces I write and post on here are derivative of other material.  For example, I spin punchlines off of the news headlines (posted on MySpace, for example) or insert my own commentary into complete articles.  It would be easy to alter a line here and there to make it easier to play a pun off of it, for example, but there's something in me that considers this cheating.  I don't know what it is, but I just won't do that.  I've even gone back and read a story so that I use the correctly gendered pronoun to refer to the subject of an article if the headline is ambiguous.  Why?  No idea.  I'm just not a cheat.

Installments of my on-going Time-Traveling Tuesdays series (posted on MySpace) have the potential to give me an artistic license without any restrictions, but once again, I can't help but make certain that things are factually as true as I can represent them.  In this case, maybe it's because I view those as crystallizations of memories about friends and acquaintances, and I don't want to taint my own (in most cases) exclusive supply of information about those characters from my past.

It would be easy for me to revise or reinvent much of my writing to give pieces the cut, clarity, and color of a real gem of a story, but I can't bring myself to do that if it means turning it into something ersatz.  I am frequently asked if some of the pieces I post are for real.  Yes, I say.  I'm not giving you something that is "true enough," let alone pulling a Stephen Glass.  Even if I'm the only witness who can testify on my behalf on some of these pieces, they're for real.


Copyright 2007 Alexplorer.
Back to the index