Validating Fiction

Posted on: January 7, 2015

MB900411777Sometimes I wonder if I should be writing nonfiction rather than fiction. You know, something more profound and educational. And then I read a scene in a novel that teaches me about another country or culture or zaps me between the eyes with an attitude I need to correct, like the novel I just finished. Truth is, a good short story or fiction book mirrors real life and challenges us to become better people as we observe the characters becoming better people.

A great article titled “Characters, Scene by Scene” by David Corbett in the January 2015 Writer’s Digest magazine reads like a counseling session. Several lines caught my attention, like this one: “Characters reveal themselves more vividly in what they do and say than in what they think and feel.”

Ouch! Just because I think I’m a nice person doesn’t mean I am. My words and actions reveal my true thoughts and feelings.

How about this quote? “We reveal ourselves most unequivocally when we’re tested.” Yikes! I usually whine when I’m tested. Revealing, huh.

As I said earlier, good fiction mirrors real life. Yes, we want characters who are just as imperfect as we are. On the other hand, we want them to face and overcome their challenges, to change and grow up out of their self-focused insecurities. Isn’t that what we want for ourselves, our children, our spouses and friends?

Corbett offers psychological tidbits, like – “Even good people have hatred in their hearts.” Really? Squirm. And, “Mercy is a rare state of grace, given the human heart’s propensity for clinging to grievances.” Oops, another squirm.

About food, he says: “It may seem curious to include food as an aspect of a character’s psychology, but it’s often a stand-in for gratifications the character can’t find elsewhere.” Interesting.

And family: “This is the crucible in which much of psychological life is forged. Many of one’s fears, wants, humiliations, etc., trace back to some episode with a family member.”

To read this excellent four-page article, pick up the January Writer’s Digest at your local bookstore or subscribe at writersdigest.com. And make your characters real. Show their weaknesses and their growth as they face and overcome challenges. In addition to entertaining readers, fiction can spur us to maturity. You don’t need to preach or write a sermon. Just tell a good, redeeming story.


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