The Truth in Fiction

July 21, 2014 | By | 7 Replies More

Amy Mackin HeadshotAt the age of 40, I decided to pursue a long-held dream of writing and started with a young adult, coming-of-age novel. It gathered only rejections. While plugging away at my next novel, a work of adult commercial fiction, I was tasked with writing a nonfiction piece for a communications class. After passing it in, the professor urged me to try and get it published.

It was accepted by a national publication with a great reputation. A dream come true for a writer just starting out. I continued working on that second novel, finished it, and am still trying to find an agent, accumulating many rejections in the process. Meanwhile, I have also written several more essays, almost all of which were picked up by one publication or another.

Family, friends, and professionals told me, “Your strength is in nonfiction; that’s what you should focus on.” They said reality sells and that nonfiction is much easier to place than fiction. An agent even contacted me about writing a nonfiction book regarding my adventures homeschooling a child on the autism spectrum, an opportunity I declined. Neither my son nor I were ready to share our entire personal story with the world at large.

I tend toward literal thinking—black or white; right or wrong. I hold strong opinions and possess the ability to string a few words together in some cohesive way (most of the time). There’s no doubt those publishing professionals were right about my strengths and their advice to pursue nonfiction was solid, but I was determined to improve at fiction writing nonetheless. I wrote and re-wrote my novel until the characters made me laugh and cry and hold my breath.

A professional editor went through the manuscript. Conversations about my concept were initiated with best-selling authors. Many works of fiction were read as I tried to determine what worked and what didn’t. And I did learn to write better. Although there is still much room for improvement, I am again querying my novel out, hoping an agent, and eventually a reading audience, will connect with the story as much as I do.

It sometimes seems stubborn and foolish to nurture this passion over following the path nature has determined—forcing my mind to work in a way that is not comfortable. But maybe it’s because I am so literal that I love fiction so much. It transcends my limitations as a human being: my character flaws, my erroneous first impressions, and my tendency to grab a slogan or sound bite and run with it.

I am able to find the truth in fiction that I can’t always extricate from real life and get to know the people behind those snippets—their motives, their histories, their triumphs and tragedies. I find myself increasingly tolerant, even sympathetic, of characters whom I would never approach in real life, appreciating the validity and beauty in their humanity, even if I profoundly disagree with their behavior.

As a writer in this genre, I can be true to the human experience in a way I could never be in nonfiction—free of the disapproving comments and criticism of my peers and released from the possibility of offending my family and friends. There’s no pressure to fit in, no confinement or conformity, no fear. In fiction, far more than nonfiction, I can tell the truth, and that’s all I’ve ever really wanted to do.

Amy’s essays have appeared in The Atlantic, The Writer, The Washington Post, Literary Mama, Brain Child, and The Shriver Report, among others. She is currently seeking representation for a women’s fiction/suspense novel.

Find out more about her on her website
Follow Amy on Twitter


Tags: , , ,

Category: Contemporary Women Writers

Comments (7)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Laura says:

    I tend to read and write non-fiction. It is what gives me a sense of connection and the courage to do what I see others doing. When my soul speaks the truth is raw and real, and making up a story about it would take away from its power to resonate with others. Thanks for letting me think about why non-fiction has been my go-to!

  2. Jo Carroll says:

    An interesting piece. I think ‘truth’ is a subjective construct – so your truth may not be the same as mine, but both are equally valid. What is important, I think (I travel write, so reflect on personal experience) is to be honest about ourselves and our experiences – congratulations on the courage you have found to write yours.

  3. Anjali says:

    Hello Amy,
    I think you’ve said something I really connect with. I’ve been a teacher and lecturer and am very interested in philosphical writing and people have told me that I’m very good at explaining conceptual stuff BUT like you my passion is writing. Beautiful, literary, evocative language and the ability to use them to say or depict things that you wouldn’t normally say through fiction is very liberating and satisfying to my mind! So you’ve made a very good point there. I think ALL fiction is essentially the telling of the truth – maybe just using a different mouth piece. 🙂

    • Amy Mackin says:

      Exactly. A different mouthpiece that I, personally, find more freedom in using. It allows me more objectivity when looking at myself and others. I find I’m willing to let a character make mistakes, show her flaws, and behave badly, even if I’m not yet able to admit to those same sins myself.

  4. Yes, there is truth in fiction. I feel that many of the stories in fiction are really non-fiction stories and characters that somehow through the author’s creativity have collided together all at the same time on the page.

    I haven’t written fiction. All of my writing to date has been non-fiction, whether my travel blog and featured stories about Cuba, Kauai, Peru, and more or my up and coming memoir, which is a true story of a survivor, me. It is called When All Balls Drop: The Upside of Losing Everything. Through it, I share my painful story of a traumatic accident, betrayal, and loss of career. It was intensely painful to write as I relived everything again.

    • Amy Mackin says:

      I agree wholeheartedly. I have an easier time exploring more painful life experiences through fiction, especially if I’ve had time to look back and conclude that I should have handled certain situations differently. I love using fiction to both explore those mistakes and create characters that can right them. Congrats on writing your memoir. A courageous achievement, indeed.

Leave a Reply