On Fiction and Therapy

I sat in my nonfiction class, gripping my poor pen as my professor explained our next assignment. It was simple: write about yourself and show the reader who you are. But by golly, I was panicked.

“There is nothing in my life worth writing about.” I had never been kidnapped, never been sucked into a whirlpool, never met a vampire fledgling, never even been held up at gunpoint. I was terrified at the idea of transforming my ordinary existence into something other’s would read. “What will I call it?” I thought, “That Time I Got Lost In The Mall Until My Dad Found Me Five Minutes Later?”

It was therapeutic of course, to finally come up with something worth my time, and I admit that I relied more on how I told the story than what the story was about. When it was over, I longed for fiction, for the falsities that cloaked my mundane reality and allowed me to write soaring, fantastical untruths. “Who cares about who I am when there’s a story to be told?”

I didn’t understand how raw, revealing, and self-excavating a work of fiction can be. But I am beginning to see the truth behind fiction. This is why, for me, I learn more about who I am through imagined stories than through real ones.

I fool myself.

Writing fiction is, at first glance, like raking a cluster of lies into a pile. And it’s so easy for me to buy into that notion. I actually believe that I’m writing about dragons or vampires or a blue-eyed boy with a mysterious scar and his own pair of wings, because I am writing about those things.

The secret truth is this: the words, the themes, the character arcs and emotional travesties, are all coming from me. I’m dredging them up from some part of my past, some corner of my being, and my subconscious (the sneaky bastard) morphs them so deftly, so subtly, that I don’t realize what’s happening until I’ve finished. Through the process of make-believe, I’m able to be the most honest with myself, and I do it without meaning to.

Fiction reveals who I am and what I’ve been through in so many ways. And no, not obvious ones. Just because I write about Hanna, who’s abandoned by her family on a strange planet, doesn’t mean I’ve been abused or neglected by my own family. Please, please, please don’t over-analyze (my dad does that when he reads my work…he must think I’m nuts). But maybe I’m coming through in the way Hanna wipes up her tears with her shirt sleeve, or her craving for grilled cheese, which reminds me of my childhood, of being happy, or the sideways smile she gives her best friend when no one else is looking.

Writing fiction is like taking a magic marker to a mirror. In between the words, the paragraphs, and the pages are little glimpses of the author –the truth sheathed in lies.

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2 comments

  1. Caleb · May 15, 2013

    Cool thoughts. I sometimes feel the same about writing songs, like since I grew up in Cape Coral if I write a country song it’s somehow less legit than someone who grew up in the real deep south in a trailer. But fiction is a place we go, and hopefully the audience goes there with us and enjoys the lies and much as we do. If my country songs ever make it beyond my back porch it’ll be to Hollister kids in Toyota Camry’s. So we’re all liars.
    Kind of like Ray Bradbury said (which is only in a very sideways way analogous to what either of us is saying, but it’s just a damn good thought), “we are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful what we pretend to be.”

    • Teshelle · May 15, 2013

      As with any form of art, we hope our audience goes along with us. And I like to think that they’ll find their own truths among the lies. I once had a friend read a scene in my book and cry because it touched her in a way that I didn’t intend when I wrote it. It’s almost as if the work becomes independent of us; it bends and shifts and pulls out of each reader/listener/viewer and each creator a different truth. And and as authors, we get the benefit of finding ourselves both through the process of creation and the finished product.

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