After last week’s post, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to come up with anything interesting to say on this blog, ever again. The wonderful comments and exclamations of joy from everyone got me thinking about why stories like the one I posted have so much more impact than stories like Eliot Spitzer’s resignation or Geraldine Ferraro’s disparaging remarks, in a culture where negativity seems to reign supreme.
My conclusion: honesty. Simple, heartfelt honesty is a powerful thing – and the reason I prefer my minimum-wage fast food job to the lucrative but deceitful and manipulative world of advertising. I’m reminded of the movie Crazy People. If you’re not familiar with it: A man who works in advertising, disillusioned by the lies his department routinely generates, creates a brutally honest ad that is inadvertently run in the New York Times (“The Freak: This movie won’t just scare you, it will f*ck you up for life”), generating enormous success. The slip lands him in a mental institution, where the inmates help him create a truth-in-advertising phenomenon, using such slogans as “Metamucil: We help you go to the toilet so you don’t get cancer and die.” Another insane ad for diet pills urges people to call their toll-free number and admit they’re fat, in order to receive a free plant.
The sad fact is: honesty is refreshing. When we find it, we latch onto it as though we’ll never see its shining face again. Casual lies are ingrained, almost expected, in our culture, and we’re even encouraged to tell “white lies” in order to spare feelings. Lies are convenient, while honesty is hard.
What does this have to do with writing? Everything. This statement may seem oxymoronic, but I am confident in asserting the truth of it:
Good fiction is honesty.
The stories are made up, the characters are made up; but the themes and the emotions are very real. Whether consciously or unconsciously, every writer infuses his or her work with the truths life has shown them. When we get it right – when we manage to paint those truths in vivid color, using interesting characters and a compelling plot – our work shines. The truth may be positive (good triumphs over evil) or negative (change is inevitable), but it is always there.
Good writers may be just like everyone else on the surface. They may practice deceit where society requires it. They may lie and tell a friend they look great in canary yellow and fluorescent orange camouflage. However, when it comes to fiction, a good writer is incapable of lying. The truths they have come to understand will penetrate the story, and strengthen its honesty, which in turn reflects the truths of the reader.
We love fiction for its honesty. And that’s the truth.
S. W. Vaughn