Sunday, July 23, 2006

History. Our Stories.

History is simply what is recollected by the victors and survivors, or reconstructed from remains. At best it's an approximation, at worst (sometimes mercifully) a fabrication. A story. Fiction. Most people don’t see it that way, but ask a Native American what he thinks of Custer. Or Kit Carson. Or Andrew Jackson.

What most people think of as fiction may be made up, but good fiction is truth. Not the literal fact of scientific discovery, or the congruence between reported events and facts placed in evidence, but alethea, from the Greek an-not and lethe-forgetfulness. The truth of fiction is the same truth found in the teachings of the all world's great religions, in the metaphors of Freud, the plays of Shakespeare, Aesop's fables, and myths worldwide and throughout human existence.

Lethe also means oblivion, and a-lethea in fiction is a kind of immortality for its author. One of the reasons writers write is fear that there's no hererafter. Our work insures our continuance—if only in the Library of Congress, and on the shelves of public libraries and private book collectors. We put our little pleas to be discovered and remembered in paper bottles that we launch in the vast oceans of Amazon, Borders, and Barnes and Noble.

We write to share the stories that obsess us. And to give substance to the voices in our heads—if others can hear them, we are not crazy but creative. We write to amuse ourselves, and to entertain or persuade others. We write to share, to clarify, sometimes to conceal. We write to stave off boredom or loneliness. Often we write to avoid dealing directly with what we perceive our lives to be. Or not to be.

We write to experience vicariously what we cannot otherwise achieve—another sex, or race or talent, a distant time or place. And writers are encouraged to do things non-writers would be arrested for—eavesdropping, impersonating cops, committing murder. Lying to the FBI.

We write to learn, because our brains are hard-wired to receive and store information in story form. We write to teach.

We write for the same reason Adam ate the apple—we cannot resist the temptation to become like God. And writers are like gods—just, loving, or capricious.

We write because we love words. And the power that skill with words gives us.

We write because we must.

32 comments:

Allison Brennan said...

When I was revising my upcoming book, I pulled a thread. At the end of the thread, two characters who had lived ended up dead; one character who died turned up alive. But the story was so much better for it.

And I thought it was just a little thread . . . Playing God? Perhaps, in my own little world.

D.A. Davenport said...

Michael,
I found your post to be very moving and thought provoking. I also realized that with some of your points, you could easily replace the word writer with reader. The reasons we write often are the reasons we read fiction. People try to keep the real world at bay and live vicariously in the words a writer gifts them with. And I've never once met a writer who was not a voracious reader. In fact, I suspect they spend most, if not all of the money they make at writing, on other people's writings. The two activities are symbiotic.

Your breakdown of what fiction is and why we write it was fantastic and they are words that I keep reading and re-reading. It gives true weight to what we do.

Thank you. It was very inspiring.

Elizabeth said...

We put our little pleas to be discovered and remembered in paper bottles that we launch in the vast oceans of Amazon, Borders, and Barnes and Noble.

Hi Michael, I wandered over from Allison Brennan's blog and glad I did. This post is so good -- thought-provoking, even a little disturbing.

Long before Adam ate the apple, God had a little work to do: "And God said, 'Let there be light,' and the light was good." In this ancient story, words came before light and darkness, before water and fish, before apples and knowledge.

I write because words fill my head.

Barbara D'Amato said...

Michael, I think that's true and beautiful.
Barb

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