I had an epiphany today. There I was, snuggled up on an overcast day, reading Notes From An Exhibition by Patrick Gale (printed on recycled paper by the way), when the sincere, simple truth of this book touched my heart the way no non-fiction book on bipolar disorder could have managed.
This, I realised, is what all good books do. Fiction or non-fiction, but most specifically fiction because we generally don’t grant these small, priceless wonders of an authors imagination as being anything more than either recreation or entertainment. But buried in the core of many of these entertainments, there is a truth. At least one truth, possibly more.
And that is what authors do. We question our truths. Question the truths of others. We contemplate them, turn them round, examine them from every angle. We ask where that truth came from and question what will happen if we take that truth and place it in a different setting. Then we watch to see if it remains a truth. We place our truth in the hands of our characters to discover what they will make of it. Is the truth malleable in the hands of a character? If it is, then does it remain the same truth or become a different one? Our novels are our truths.
As an English teacher, I have raved about brilliant characterisation. I’ve discussed and graphed, the the accelerating pace of a plot. I have expounded on timeless themes and the personification of these themes. But what I have never discussed with my students (but most assuredly will next time I find myself in a classroom) is the truth of a novel. What is the truth of it? Are different truths percieved by different readers?
And as a writer, what shall I ask myself as I continue along with the current novel? I want to know about the truth I am exploring. Not just character motivation, plot, subplot and theme. Well, all that yes, but also, what truth is my character holding for me? How will she respond to it? Where will that truth lead us and how will I uncover it with her? Indeed I think our search for the truth will lead us on an amazing adventure!