How To Tell A True Story

Truth is a kind of moderation, the reality that lies in-between the impossible extremes of anything. Is it just me though, or does life seem to be made up of extremes that the truth never captures? The more I try to tell a true story, the more fictitious it becomes. That’s why, sometimes, the truest of stories are the ones that have the most made up parts.

Once you make up your mind to tell a true story, you’re already doomed. Even if you don’t change anything about it—which is the impossible standard people hold you to when you tell the truth—the story changes as you leave out details. You don’t even mean to leave out details, but you do. You suppress the inconsequential, omit the trivial, gloss over the tangential realities to make it easier for people to follow and grasp the essence of it. Yet, who are you to decide which of these details are superfluous?

If it is your story, you are no doubt biased about its events and its meaning. You present it as you experienced, as you remember it. Is there any truth in one man’s perception or in the labyrinth of his memory?

No, there is no way to tell a true story unless you disregard what happened entirely. Forget the physical details of it and remember the emotions, the feelings. Those are the aspects of it that are unchanging, permanent within your heart and mind. Find the symbols and shapes you need to depict them, represent them with your words. Why strive for imperfect realism when you could impressionistically convey the exact sensation of it? Change the setting, the time, the weather, and the total reality of it. Add inventions and monsters or diseases and magic. Draw people’s minds into your heart, and only then will you be able to convey what really happened. Symbolically depict the emotions that are so impossible to convey through the bland moderation of truth.


I am a fiction writer;

I have never written anything but true stories.

2 thoughts on “How To Tell A True Story

  1. My supervisor at university said: “Never destroy a good story with the truth”. That might have been a tad concerning since we were doing sociology research at the time, but in my creative writing, I take it with me as a mantra whenever I need to be reminded of my freedom to write whatever I want, however I want it, as long as that serves the purpose and brings out the message and the emotions I want to share.

    1. That quote is the very essence of what I was trying to convey! Although, I have to admit, I’m a tad confused as to how it relates to sociology research, too…but in creative writing, it’s such a wonderful opportunity to do whatever you feel you need to in order to get at the heart of what happened.

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