Writers like to talk about “honesty” and “truth.” They aim to tell an “honest” tale, reveal “honesty” in characters, or get the “truth” of a story on the page. What does it mean? In a fictional novel, the truth authors seek is a sincere understanding of the world and the characters they have created. A truth that is so sincere that they, along with their readers, feel as though the story could have actually happened, the characters and the world that the story is set in could have actually existed. Aren’t those the stories we love most? The stories that feel like we are reading about real people who truly went through all we’re reading about are the stories that keep us coming back for more. These are the stories we relate to because they reveal things about us as human beings.
One tactic many writers use to help them find this truth is taking pieces of real life and using them as inspiration. An author may use personality traits or elements from different people they actually know to help create characters that “feel real.” Having grown up in the environment she set her classic novel in, Harper Lee drew on personal experiences in writing To Kill a Mockingbird. Anchoring her story in truth in that way must have helped her create such a believable world in this very “true” novel. By finding inspiration in the Scottsboro Trials, Lee further added to the sincerity of the story. We read To Kill a Mockingbird and respond to the characters, the situation, and the human emotions she taps into so expertly.
What about when we look at a book like the Diary of Anne Frank? Here, a young girl actually scribbled in her diary without ever knowing that her words would find their way into countless classrooms, homes, and libraries across the world. The truth is in this book because, well, it is true. Anne was stuck inside the Secret Annex going through everything she wrote about while she wrote about it. She experienced the fear, isolation, and horror that World War II brought to so many people and she used her diary to express her true feelings. You can’t get much truer. This honesty helps us to understand who she was (or her “character” and the “characters” that surrounded her) and connect, or empathize, with her. This is what all writers aim to do.
It is interesting to consider that writers have written in the style of a diary to help a story ring true. When done right, readers can feel as though they are reading a nonfiction journal or personal diary even though it is completely fictional. This can help in getting to know a character more deeply, in a way that is more laborious in a narrative, thus helping the author get to the heart of that character, its truth.
Writers aim to write stories that ring as true as a nonfiction journal. The art of creating good fiction is creating an interesting world that is both believable and relatable. The last thing an author wants is for a reader to be taken out of a story because it feels false.