All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.‘ Ernest Hemingway
Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn’t.’ Mark Twain
I dare say that we’ve all heard Mark Twain’s quote above. And probably a good many of us have heard what Hemingway had to say. I’m struck by the dichotomy posed by these two statements. As writers, if we are to write the truest sentence that we know, how are we to either accept or pay attention to Twain’s warning? Though Hemingway once said that all American literature begins with Twain, the two thoughts seem to cancel each other out. Don’t they? Or am I taking them out of context? And as mystery writers, is all of this beside the point? I mean, our aim is to write a thumping good tale and let the chips fall where they may, isn’t it? Twain is right in part. I have, as have you all probably, seen situations that nobody would believe if you put them into a book. But does that mean we aren’t servants of truth?
For my part, I always fall on the side of telling the story and not worrying about deeper meaning. It seems like every time that I have ever concerned myself with deeper themes, with finding “truth,” I end up being ham-fisted in my attempt. In graduate school, I studied under the late Dr. Joanne Cockelreas, a graduate, in the early 60s, of the Iowa MFA program. She told me once that I should focus on good, old-fashioned storytelling. “Look at the anthologies,” she said. “You’ll find one or two or three experimental pieces. But, the vast majority are just excellent, straightforward stories.” While she wasn’t speaking directly to Hemingway’s assertion, I think there is an application to be made.
Having said all of this, I’d like to hear what other mystery writers have to say. So, chime in. Let’s talk about truth and fiction for a few minutes.
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