The Sometimes Intentional Truth About Stories

© Warner Brothers

When I set out to write novels, I did so because I had a story I wanted to write. It wasn't any more complicated than that. That novella, which I'm saving for a rainy, share-worthy kind of day, did not have some deep inner meaning. Not that I was aware of, at least. It was a story that crawled into my head and refused to leave until it was on paper, but there were no righteous calls for climate change, no scathing commentary on the Middle East, no subliminal messages about people I love and hate. It was just a story.

Or was it?

As I've moved forward with my writing career, I've read and learned a lot about the craft itself (it's hard to avoid advice when every fucking person in the world has a goddamn tip to share). But more than that, I've learned about PEOPLE. Why they write. What their actions mean. What they're saying through their words. What they're saying when they're saying nothing at all.

What I've come to realize is that there are two types of stories:

1) One where a writer intentionally reveals his/her deepest inner secrets,

2) One where a writer accidentally reveals his/her deepest inner secrets.

Some people might disagree with number two, convinced that psychoanalysis is as useful as an ice pick to the neck, but revealing writing is unavoidable. Even intentionally-"false" writing is revealing. Look at James Frey. The fact that he would completely fabricate "non-fiction" stories and then pass them off as truth was as revealing as any factual autobiography could've been. Frey accidentally revealed more about himself than he surely intended.

On the flipside, J.K. Rowling built the Harry Potter universe around her own adolescent (and adult) struggles. Harry Potter wasn't just a boy wizard, he and every other character, setting, scene were all pieces of Rowling, and she wrote her story as much for her own therapy as for the world's enjoyment. Paolo Bacigalupi's mind-blowing science fiction says more about his thoughts on genetically-modified food, over-reliance on technology, and much more not through explicit essays about those subjects, but through beautifully-rendered stories.

The bravest of the bunch are the people who write stories confronting their biggest fears, their most-embarrassing moments, their most shameful secrets. These people are goddamn superheroes. People like Chuck Palahniuk are masters of the TRUTH, even though he (and others like him) is technically writing "fiction" ... whatever that means. Stand-up comic Rob Delaney wrote a gut-wrenching piece about his personal battle with depression. I'm not sure you can write anything more powerful and honest.

I started out writing because I had a story to tell, a story about a little girl who didn't want to live with her grandmother anymore. I don't know why I HAD to write that story, but I'm sure after some painful introspection, I'd find the answer. As I've grown older and more experienced (as a person and a writer), I'm finding that my views and thoughts and interests are forcing their way into my work. I still have that overwhelming compulsion to tell a story, but I'm going into it with more understanding than ever before. I think a lot more about WHY I'm writing and WHAT I'm really writing about than I did when I had that novella clawing at the back of my skull. It's not better or worse to be more cognizant, it's not anything really, just my own personal evolution.

The next step, maybe a writer's final Pokemon form, is to reach that Delaney-esque brutality, where all of the fears, shame, embarrassment, and self-loathing of the real world become secondary to the story. I'm definitely not there yet (sorry), so for now, I waver between subtly-intentional and awkwardly-accidental revelations about my deepest thoughts and secrets.

A common writing tip is to "write what you know," but I think that should really read, "Write, because what you know will be in there with or without your consent."

And if you're brave enough, pull back the curtain and show the world the fragile wizard within.