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Writers and Liars: On Fact, Fiction, and Truth – Sunday August 14, 2022

I’ve often heard authors say that fiction is merely lies. George R. R. Martin has said that “we’re writing about people who never existed and events that never happened…[a]ll those things are essentially untrue.” Norman Spinrad characterizes these fictional lies as differentiating the genre from “biography, history, or reportage.” The list of writers with this viewpoint goes on and on. There’s even a fiction writing group, for whom I once had the pleasure of being a guest speaker, called the Pocono Liars Club.

It’s not hard to understand this perspective. As a novelist, I do make things up for a living. But I believe the job of the author is to tell emotional truths, and that the best way to do that is rarely by relaying facts and figures or repeating events just as they happened. Journalism and documentaries have an important place and often use the same toolbox as fiction does, however, fiction is uniquely suited to truth-telling because humans have storytelling baked into our DNA. We understand the world best through stories, and these are an incredible way to arrive at something approaching a universal truth.

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