How true can a story be?


Knowing that memoir, non-fiction, history… all are someone’s version of  ‘the truth’ or ‘what actually happened.’

Back before I finished Pride’s Children: PURGATORY, I remember wondering whether it was okay to tell a story that would take quite a lot to be true, and yet should feel absolutely as if it was true, as all fiction that lasts does.

The image above, or a very ripe strawberry, reminds me of one of the early scenes in Firefly (one of our family’s all-time favorite TV shows), where Kaylee acquires an amazing strawberry from Shepherd Book, as part of his passage on the ship.

Is the idea better than the reality?

I can’t eat one – and we have them daily here – without thinking of the look on her face as she bites into the perfect fruit. All of them aren’t that perfect, but we don’t care – the idea of  ‘strawberry’ is a powerful umbrella which covers a little imperfection here and there.

I stopped worrying, went ahead and finished that part of the story exactly as I had planned, making it as true as I could make with smoke and mirrors.

I’m trying to do the same sleight-of-hand with the next volume.

From October, 2012:

Telling fairytales: giving readers false hopes

One of the things getting in the way of getting on with editing Pride’s Children, the WIP, is an insidious little voice in my head saying, “That could never happen!”

My brain tells me I shouldn’t write the story of someone who gets something in the story she would never get in real life – and that it would discourage people with similar problems from even thinking about what happens in the book – lest it give them FALSE HOPES.

And then I remembered that’s why humans tell stories.

In stories, the ugly duckling turns out to be the swan, more beautiful than all those picking at him. And Cinderella, the girl whose stepmother and stepsisters treat her like a servant, marries the Prince.

The point is – if we don’t tell stories and read stories – all we have is reality. Reality is harsh. If it were not for stories, humans would all die early by ‘failure to thrive.’

We need stories in which there is hope.

That it may be temporarily false is not important. If we mature, we will grow up to discover our own place, our own story, our own Prince – our own way to be happy. Either we will become President – or we will decide it is too much work to be President, anyway.

Children – and I think most people can remember being different, wanting more than they had, wishing they were more popular, or their parents had more money (so they could have that pony my eldest still asks for – at 26) – don’t have the tools to create their own reality where they are happy. Stories teach them (and adults who are still struggling with the same questions) those tools, or at least, that there ARE tools.

This could happen.

My story, if I am successful in my aims, will let someone spend a bit of time thinking ‘this could be me, this COULD happen,’ and thus keep that someone happy enough to keep trying for another day.

That is a good enough reason to write.



20 thoughts on “How true can a story be?

  1. Janna G. Noelle

    I think that all writers needs to decide for themselves whether their stories will be representative of the real world or aspirational of the world they want to see. The answer to that question might change with every novel, but no one answer if more valid or legitimate than the other in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Lynda Dietz

    I love when the balance of “that could never happen” and “but what if” work out well. It’s why we read, after all. We want to believe that something magical can happen to even the most common of us, if only in a book.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      I suppose it would depend on what came out, but, for example, few people know enough physics to become exceptional – data is required that takes years to acquire, and a lot of formal instruction.

      A capacity for learning might be found, and an area (say, music) where quick learning is helpful.

      But I greatly doubt that the abilities in a savant are widespread.

      Works for fiction, but not for more than a few scattered individuals.

      You, of course, may believe differently – but I hope you will not go around trying to prove a point with real people. These are extremely rare cases – which is why they are of interest. And, since they require damage, I have none of that interest myself.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Coy of Alien Resort

    What is truly fascinating is the existence of acquired savants, where a brain injury releases phenomenal abilities. I’ve heard that there are parts of our brain, for whatever their “agenda” may be, that suppress other parts of our brain and prevent us all from becoming geniuses.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Maybe because your brain is trying to do something with the information – and it’s impossible to make a coherent map – so it keeps trying different combinations. I think when you do something in your brain instead of body, there are tiny samples of nerve impulses sent to the muscles, to get you ready for actually doing it. I’ve felt it when planning a sequence of moves.


        1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

          Don’t tear up the manuscript! Read Stephen King’s On Writing – that’s where Carrie came from, his wife Tabitha’s digging the crumpled up papers from his wastebasket.

          Not my kind of reading material, but don’t destroy impulses from your brain – instead, learn to guide them.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. Marian Allen

    I love your insight that humans, without stories, would perish from ‘failure to thrive’. The image of storytelling as a means of offering nourishment VASTLY appeals to me. Maybe that’s why a good story feels like a feast.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Someplace between the great apes and their way of communicating with each other about food and danger, and us, was a change. The change is huge. It probably involved selecting for the best in making the distinction between SHOWING the other apes where something was and TELLING them, via language, where it was.

      It saves a lot of the hunter’s/gatherer’s energy if he/she can bring home part of the kill/wild honey, but doesn’t have to go out all over again to get the rest, but can make a map or tell the others “it’s right by the big black rock after the stream.”

      SOMETHING made the shift between the apes we still have with us, and the conceptual humans who put them in cages.


  5. Coy of Alien Resort

    It seems to defy logic that people are willing to suspend belief. Maybe listening to fairy tales trains us to do so, or maybe it’s just hope, or maybe it’s the brain’s way of coping with its own inherent chaos.


    1. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt Post author

      Without suspension of disbelief, we could never watch all the illogical movies and TV shows, nor read the books, which have so many plot holes big enough for dinosaurs.

      We seem to be able to get enough out of many incomplete stories – but I find that my suspension is taking an awful lot more hits lately than it used to. Maybe as I get to be a better writer, I am less willing to put up with badly plotted stories. Because it’s driving me crazy!

      Liked by 1 person


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