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Fiction: The Lie that Tells the Truth

Is this a true definition of fiction?

It sounds clever. It's short and punchy. It's ironic; it has a twist. But it doesn't work, not for me. Not totally.

First, because a lie is not what fiction is. Even if everything in the story is entirely made up--which I would argue is not really ever the case, even in fantasy or science fiction--it would not be a lie, only made up. What is a lie? I think a lie is a deliberate, knowing untruth for personal gain or some sort, often with malicious intent. Fiction has untruths, but not lies.

This might be grasping at straws to make an argument.

Second, I don't think something can come from nothing or its opposite, or be its opposite. Is that an Aristotelian thing? The Law of noncontradiction? "It is impossible for the same thing to belong and not to belong at the same time to the same thing and in the same respect." Not sure.

Third, not all fiction tells the truth as its outcome. Perhaps that is the result of literary fiction, and I hope the result of what I write, although if the first principle of fiction is not to tell a good story, I am not sure it's on the right track. If a novel or short story can be distilled to a theme or truth or thesis, is it doing its job? What is fiction's job, in the first place?

And we return to Pilate's quip: "What is (fictional) truth?"

I think of the difference between Agatha Christie's novels and more modernistic, nihilistic works . I enjoy Christie, but there is no eternal truth there. I take that back, somewhat--inexorable, implacable justice is its truth. The murderer gets caught. Or the person who was murdered "needed killing" and the murderers were justified in their act (Murder on the Orient Express being the main example here). Or the detective decides to let them get away with it for some reason. And we can debate these propositions externally to the story.

But does Virginia Woolf have a proposition we can debate? Or Thomas Wolfe? or Ray Bradbury? They resonate with something in us, something human, but is that truth?

Please join the conversation!

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