Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Something I've Been Thinking About

Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.
-Mark Twain
I've been thinking a lot about this quote lately, partly because I've been so engaged in the writing of fiction and the craft of storytelling, but also because of the way it plays into some long-running thoughts and speculations I've been toying with for many years now.

It's long been a contention of mine that one of the primary ways people engage with and understand the world is through stories and narrative.  From the mythologies of the Greeks and the Norsemen to the vagaries of the modern news cycle, one of the primary drivers of any phenomenon's meaning is the narrative structures it can be fitted (or forced) into.  Human brains, by nature, function primarily by recognizing patterns, by focusing in on specific details and then using those data-points to backfill a larger picture.  Later data-points are then interpreted through the established/recognized pattern and fitted into it or, if they don't fit, they are often discarded and/or ignored, since the maintenance of the pattern/larger picture is so important to the perceiving subject's mental and psychological well-being.

This is why truth is stranger than fiction (well, most fiction, anyway), because the world as it truly is is a sprawling mess of a place that is generally too complicated and contrary to make any sort of sense out of, at least by such limited creatures as human beings.  To say things happen for a reason is, at best, an assertion of faith. 

Truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense.  It's what we want from our narratives.  We need these patterns, these narrative structures that make some sort of underlying sense, because otherwise the world is just this crazy mess of a place in which we are lost, because nothing means anything.  Fiction is truth hammered into some sort of recognizable form, a tool we can use to understand ourselves and the world.

1 comment:

chrissie said...

Great post. I think about this too, not just with regard to my writing but also to my job--therapy to me is all about shared stories, making meaning, finding the Truths amid the Fictions we've created.