Over the years I have been writing, I have been asked many times if the stories my novels contain are ‘true’. In August last year, I wrote an ICFW blog on this topic and hoped my days of hearing this question and writing about it were over. But alas, it seems they’re not. Recently, I was challenged quite strongly about it all in a way that left me almost lost for words.
I had been invited to speak to around a dozen women from a church group gathered in someone’s home. I duly launched into my talk and then invited questions, either on the topic covered or on writing in general.
‘Oh, I was under the impression your first two novels were a true story,’ one older lady burst out immediately. ‘I’m so disappointed! I wouldn’t have cried so much all through reading them if I’d known they were made up!’
For a moment I was flabbergasted. How does one respond to such comments? How would you have responded?
Eventually I managed to say a few things in what I hope was a gracious manner. I pointed out that many of the key facts in these books are indeed ‘true’ and happened exactly as I had recounted them—especially the saddest ones. Yet while I had modelled the two main characters on ‘real’ people, I had certainly created others from my imagination and from a variety of traits I had seen in people over the years. And of course I had invented the conversations that took place between them all and so much else too. After all, my books are novels! And it does state on the back cover of each of my first two novels that they were merely ‘inspired by’ a real life story.
I also made the point that if an author purported to be writing non-fiction when it was indeed fiction, I would be concerned about that! In that instance you have lied to your public—which is not on, especially for Christians. But as for including fact in fiction—well, is there a problem with that?
Later in the evening, another lady continued the discussion privately with me.
‘But surely there would have to be a limit to the truth authors are allowed to have in their novels, wouldn’t there?’ she asked in a puzzled tone. ‘Is there some rule about that—perhaps that you can have say fifty percent ‘truth’ and the rest made up?’
Now how would you answer that one?
Well, I must admit I floundered again. In reality, how could anyone ever put a ‘percentage’ on the ‘truth’ that could be included? Aside from material that an author knows is ‘true’, so much of what he or she might write comes from some experience or encounter in real life, intermingled with imagination.
It was all too much for me. With a weak smile, I told her I would think about it a little more.At that point, the lady who had reacted strongly in our question time came to look at my book table. We chatted amicably—and then she proceeded to buy two more of my novels! I hid a smile and managed to refrain from commenting. But I hope and pray she can allow herself to become lost in them as she reads, without wondering what is ‘true’ and what isn’t. And I hope and pray she is thoroughly blessed in the process.