TRUTH IN FICTION
Truth is subjective, not objective. We all don’t recognize the same truths.
All men are created equal? There’s a lot of people who disagree with that.
God is love? Tell that to someone with cancer.
The earth is round? Scientists say it’s oval. Some people still think it’s flat.
In fiction, the writer’s job is to establish truth. We have to show what truth is for the world of our story. Convince your Audience and you’ll not only validate the premise, you may even make them feel good. Fail, and you’re going to be laughed at, your story tossed in the trash heap of history.
So, if truth is subjective…meaning we all see it differently, then how do we establish it in the story? Well, this series tells you various means to achieve that. But since the goal is to make story structure simple to understand, I’ll boil it down to a few simple maxims as an appetizer for the main course.
We all understand certain truths from our own experiences. We may disagree on a lot of things, but we can all agree on one fact.
Life doesn’t happen exactly the way we want it to. Even billionaires have bad days.
This is why conflict is so important to making a story work. Conflict stands between us and our goal. We relate to it. We understand it. And we want to beat it!
Truth is established by showing the best way to overcome that conflict. We do this by systematically testing and rejecting every action until we arrive at the point of the story, the premise. Every scene serves that purpose. No scene should be empty of purpose. Scenes test the premise in one way or another. When all the tests are completed, we arrive at our conclusion.
But the tests have to be valid. They have to be something we can believe in. They can’t be illogical or nonsensical. And more importantly, they must have emotional resonance for us. Logic and emotion must be married in a story for it to develop the kind of power it needs. When logic is married with emotional resonance, we create meaning.
Stories create change for the characters through conflict. But, because truth is subjective, we arrive at truth when it has meaning for us. So make sure your story creates meaningful truth.
REMEMBER: Don’t preach. Convince!
SUSPENSION OF DISBELIEF
All writers are liars. Good liars can convince you of anything.
No story is true, even if it’s based in fact. Things inevitably get left out. All stories are one sided, even when they try not to be. Someone always wins. Someone always loses.
So, you must convince your Audience that these fables you’re spinning are the gospel truth. Obviously, they’ll know better. But they want to believe. People desire entertainment. Our minds seek to escape for awhile. So you have an opening.
The balance of the Audience’s willingness to be sucked in and your ability to keep them off guard is where technique and structure come in. As we discussed, people expect reality to come at them a certain way. Classic story structure imitates life as people see it. But the flow of the action isn’t enough. The action has to be believable to them.
To do this you need to create plausible, empathetic characters. You have to create a Milieu they can believe in and enjoy. And you have you present information in an unobtrusive, interesting manner. If you fail to do any of these things, you are going to find yourself with a bored or disenchanted audience.
When the Audience is on your side, they’re your friend. They’ll love you. They’ll praise you to the high heavens. But when they don’t like your work, they’re your enemy. They will bad mouth you and your stories to anyone who will listen. So it’s extremely important that you try to win them over. Their good will has a lot to do with how successful your career is going to be.
Your job is to seduce them. You want them to get in bed with you and stay there until you’re finished. So remember the four rules of story seduction:
- Create believable, empathetic characters.
- Create a fascinating, credible Milieu.
- Tell them what they need to know. No cheap surprises.
- Respect the Audience. Don’t treat them like idiots.