In the short video below, author and screenwriting mentor Robert McKee answers the question, “How do you define the truth of your story?”
My main struggle as a writer is to express the truth of my stories or poems in a way that will also resonate with my readers.
McKee says that there are many levels of truth in a story. There’s the surface level—the how and why things happen. The facts of the story.
For example, my protagonist in my current work starts out as a veterinarian focused on healing animals with her science and medical abilities only but, as the story progresses, she is drawn deeper into the magic of her hometown and her own special healing abilities. This is the surface story.
But, McKee says, a storyteller is after how and why what happens on the surface happens. We are looking for the deep hows and whys even down to our character’s subconscious level.
In my story, my protagonist resists using her special abilities because bad things have happened to those she loved when she used her powers as a young girl. She carries this trauma forward and it is her truth.
In a good story, says McKee, you express the truth that you believe in. Someone else may see it as a totally different truth from their own experiences but this doesn’t matter. If you express your truths well and beautifully, the reader will resonate with your work. They will come away from your book or movie recognizing they are in the presence of the truth.