I read an article this morning in The New Yorker that says all the things that I believe about fiction, that I believe about writing, better than I say them when I try to explain why fiction is so important. Keith Ridgway starts with, “I don’t know how to write. Which is unfortunate, as I do it for a living. Mind you, I don’t know how to live either.” (Me, too, buddy. Me, too.)
But the crux for me is this:
Everything is fiction. When you tell yourself the story of your life, the story of your day, you edit and rewrite and weave a narrative out of a collection of random experiences and events…You have a perception of the way things are, and you impose it on your memory, and in this way you think, in the same way that I think, that you are living something that is describable. When of course, what we actually live, what we actually experience—with our senses and our nerves—is a vast, absurd, beautiful, ridiculous chaos.
Because everything IS fiction. Narrative is how we experience our lives, even within our own heads. It drives me crazy when people say they only read non-fiction because “it really happened.” Fiction tells truths clearer than the random chaos of real life, and real life can’t ever really be described anyway. Even non-fiction stories are narratives constructed and shaped into a digestible arc that makes sense out of “what really happened.”
I could go on and on, as it’s something that I’ve been thinking about for years and talking about a lot lately in relation to Hand Me Down: truth in fiction, getting at truth through fiction, and the choice between novel or memoir for a story that is mostly true. I’ll be posting more interviews where I discuss these issues, but for now, you should really just go read this piece, Everything Is Fiction. It’s short and brilliant. Enjoy.