this work depicts no actual person either living or dead


Truth is always strange/ Stranger than fictiontruth is stranger than fiction noteLord Byron



I thought about this as I <once again> scanned the infamous “this work depicts no actual person, either living or dead “caveat at the beginning of each book you will ever pick up in your life.


On a side note.

One of the best I have ever read was in the beginning of a 1926 edition of Show Boat <by Edna Ferber> I happened to pick up one day:


“This book is neither history nor biography, but fiction.”


And she could have stopped there … but continued …


“… this statement is made in the hope that it will forestall such protest as may be registered by demon statisticians against certain liberties taken with characters, places and events. In one portion of the book, for example, a character occasionally appears some three of four years after the actual date of his death. Now and then a restaurant or gambling resort is described running full blast at a time when it had vanished at the frown of civic virtue. This, then, was done, not through negligence of research, but because, in the attempt to give a picture of the time it was necessary to condense time.”


<beautifully written, punctuated, and said>



Truth and fiction.

And … well … I imagine … condensing.




Maybe fiction is truer than truth because it condenses Life. In 200 pages <give or take> I can relive a moment, a life, a generation … or … well … you pick whatever length of time you want.

It condenses a memory, an imagined moment or a real moment. Uhm. Sorry. All of the above are very real in your head.



     “Fiction gives us a second chance that life denies us.” –  Paul Theroux



Fiction gives us a second chance … or maybe better said … a second look at Life.

It condenses moments and thoughts and feelings and relationships … and, yes, history into words … and gives us a second … third … and even many more chances to relive it all and think about it all and feel about it all … over and over again if need be.


And in doing so and actually thinking about it … it does appear that novels reflect truth … or what we think … almost better than real life.




truth stranger than realityAt least it sometimes seems that way.

The quote I began with actually comes from the poem Don Juan:


    ‘Tis strange – but true; for truth is always strange;

    Stranger than fiction; if it could be told.


And Mark Twain weighed in on this thought … I imagine to clarify Byron a little more:



“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.” – Mark Twain




I shiver at the thought that some truth is best encountered via fiction.




Well … to me … Truth doesn’t need to be as entertaining as fiction.

Or at least it shouldn’t have to be.


Unfortunately research has shown over and over again that we retain information better <or more quickly or efficiently> if it is delivered in an entertaining way. And that includes cold hard truth <even warm truth>.


Why? It is an unfortunate truth that sometimes a true story often creates ‘entertainment’ flaws in the narrative.

Why <again>? Truth is often found in the dull minutae or shared through some unsympathetic protagonist or even with a relatively unsatisfying plot.


Truth also <paradoxically> makes a virtue of implausibility.



If a true story is unbelievable … well … that’s amazing … even entertaining … and proves it is worth telling.


However … implausibility in fiction? Just means it’s badly written.


Oddly, because of this implausibility thing, what ends up happening is it seems that things which actually happen are harder to believe or more amazing than stories that people invent.


We like to make sense of things in everyday life. Truth is supposed to meet the ‘common sense’ criteria <of which – I would like to point out – the majority of us have really really crapppy common sense>.


That said.

Truth in life has to be made sense of <we often need to work backwards> and in novels an author unfolds their version of ‘truth’ so that inevitably whatever scenario they end up sharing with the reader makes sense <in some form or fashion>.



Life doesn’t work that way.


And we suck at working backwards in Life.


lovers quarrel life and me

“We will always learn more about human life and human personality from novels than from scientific psychology” – Chomsky



An unfortunate Truth?

Laws of science, alone, cannot dictate what we may or may not believe.

Because attitudes change over time.


What one time and one generation holds to be true, as fact, another will see as silly or, even worse, heresy.


We confuse what was with what is.



I worry that what I just wrote is one of those <semi> clever things people say that mean absolutely nothing.


Fiction offers truth through stories … not some bully pulpit where someone shouts over and over something we should believe.

Fiction lets you uncover learning and knowledge through involvement.


Unfortunately … Reality is never so subtle.


In fact … a common problem with reality is that the more a bad idea is repeated … the more it is believed. This creates a concerning <concerning at least to me> increasing problem in that so many people have difficulty discerning fact from fiction … as well as discerning reputable information <think Wikipedia>.


Beyond literature … Truth runs an additional different challenge through the ‘fiction gauntlet’ in movies.

For example.


When a movie states “this is based on facts” or “on real life events” massive amounts of people take it as indisputable Truth <pieces & whole> and begin believing an altered and somewhat distorted version of history.

And the even worse?


They turn around and they share it as fact … not fiction <by the way … some experts would call that ‘effective word of mouth’>.

And they share it over and over.


The net result?

The more it is believed as fact.


And then there are the good well intentioned people who absorb these movies <and books> as fiction … and attempt to respectfully discern fact from fiction to correct misconceptions.




Nice try.

Stubbornly … the distorted views fight back and become more ‘solid’ in their warped view of truth.

<studies show that refuting bad ideas only results in believers becoming more stubborn>



And that is where fiction actually beats reality.

In the thinking <although many people get confused and suggest fiction IS reality>.


thinking-capFiction doesn’t refute bad ideas … it shares thinking and thoughts and perspective and ‘what ifs.’


And it makes you think … well … indirectly … about different shit.


And thinking is good.


Because … simplistically … if people do not know how to think they become more susceptible to being told what to think.

I tend to believe that if everyone could base their ideas more on critical thinking and questioning then bad ideas <and bad thinking> would struggle to take any meaningful root and even better … mistaken understanding would inevitably be correctable. Yes. I fully understand I am treading on some dangerous ground here in that I am suggesting there is good thinking and bad thinking <and how the hell do you tell the difference>. But. Ponder the thought. It is worth thinking about.



Back to fiction and truth.

Shakespeare made a statement about the nature of the theater which plays into this article.


“Like dreams, plays aren’t real – they’re the product of imagination and fantasy and involve the momentary suspension of reality.”



This seems like an accurate description about life in general.


At times, the real events that make up our own lives can seem as fleeting and fantastic as our dreams.



Truth … truth stranger than fiction.


Or as Oscar Wilde suggested …


“The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.”



Fiction does resemble truth.


In fact that is what makes fiction so good and entertaining … it embodies truth in hyperbole.


It makes some things bigger than life and some things smaller and inconsequential.

Unfortunately we cannot do that in Life <or maybe we do not do it well?> therefore we do so in fiction.

And in fact fiction permits you to become involved in truth or thinking or knowledge … and the joy is in the involvement … you become part of the thought instead of being told the thought.




Fiction … does it have to be accurate?



That’s partly the point.truth stranger fiction truth


Documentaries should be accurate … but fiction is often what I would call ‘enlightening entertainment’ and just needs to be entertaining.

And in its entertainment it gets the mental juices flowing. It gets emotions riles up and the head wrapping itself around words and images and thoughts and ideas.




The real truth?

Even though an author goes out of their way to say “this work depicts no actual person, either living or dead “ at the beginning of their fictional works … we see actual people and actual actions and actual thoughts in the words we read <or movies we watch>.


Fiction in a very very odd way permits us to step back … to step in … to reality.



“So if people ever look down upon you for crying for fictional characters, you should give them a gentle, pitying look and feel bad for them. If they’ve never cried for a fictional character, then they’ve never loved one (and what a joy that is). If they’ve never cried at a book, a movie, a piece of music, then they’ve missed one of the great pleasures life has to offer. Just because fiction does not contain things that are real doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain truth, and we find it through the alchemy of our tears.” – Cassandra Clare



Fiction permits us to become involved in Life and reality in a different way.

I imagine I could suggest that its value isn’t really in ‘truth’ but rather in the journey to truth.


We may get confused on that distinction with regard to fiction and while I may personally get frustrated on occasion when someone stubbornly states ‘that is fact’ or ‘based on a true story’ <wrapping up all the non-truth pieces into the whole of something they call true> I like the fact there is a discussion taking place.


Truth may be stranger than fiction.truth stranger than unanswerable


But if fiction gets us closer to thinking about truth … well … I gotta tell ya … that’s a good thing.


And while I am no smarter than the average bear … I will continue to encourage watching movies and tv shows <non reality shows> and reading books … and debating what is truth until the day I die.


If some things are just unanswerable? Well. So be it. The journey is worth it.


For truth may be stranger than fiction … but it is always worth seeking.

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Written by Bruce