In undergrad, we had two writing professors, one for poetry and one for fiction. Since at the time poetry intimidated the heck out of me (more on that in a future post, I’m sure), my college writing career was “managed” by one professor. This professor happened to be a really big fan of John Gardner, who has written several books on writing. I didn’t care much for Gardner then (though it struck me this morning that it might be past time that I re-read his books on writing and see how I feel now, years later), but one quote of his that stuck with me regardless is this one:
The writer who cannot distinguish truth from a peanut-butter sandwich can never write good fiction.
– John Gardner, The Art of Fiction
Is it really that easy to mix up truth and a peanut-butter sandwich? Of course not. But that’s not the point. The point is that if a writer doesn’t know the truth, doesn’t know truth, and doesn’t use truth spread out (like peanut-butter!) all over her work, then the writer simply can’t write good fiction. Truth must be present in fiction.
But, you argue, fiction isn’t the truth! Fiction never happened! That’s why it’s called fiction and not non-fiction. It’s not reality. It isn’t a memoir or a biography or a historical account of things that actually transpired. Why are you bringing up truth at all? Fiction does not equal truth.
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