Fiction writing: A lie that tells the truth
“We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.” –Pablo Picasso
In his Ted Talk, “Why a Good Book is a Secret Door,” children’s author Mac Barnett quotes Picasso and says he loves writing for children because they make the best audience. Children are so willing to enter other worlds.
He says good fiction will leave us with the feeling that the characters are real even though we know that they are not.
As a kid, he loved reading fantasy stories like the “Chronicles of Narnia,” and he was always looking in the real world for doorways to the fictional worlds he’d read about.
He talks about a writing technique called metafiction, which is a story about a story but he says instead of the audience breaking the fourth wall into the story, he prefers to have his books break the wall and enter reality. He wants his fiction to open up into the real world, to create a doorway into our world.
To illustrate his point, he tells an amusing story of one of his fictional characters—a great blue whale—and the children who called in and left the whale messages as if he was real.
As an adult reader, what characters made such an impression on you that they felt real? Here are just a few that come to mind for me: Lizbeth Salander, Scout Finch, Bone Boatwright, Susie Salmon, Lily Owens, and Katniss Everdeen.
These are the types of characters that break that fourth wall and inhabit our imaginations and desires. We relate to these characters. We see something in them that resonates the truth within us. The creators of these characters have convinced me of the truthfulness of their lies.
For more on what makes a good character, check out my post, “How to get readers to care about your characters.” Great advice by screenwriter and director John Truby.