Mr. Horne's Book of Secrets

When Fiction is Truer than the News

A petty reason perhaps why novelists more and more try to keep a distance from journalists is that novelists are trying to write the truth and journalists are trying to write fiction.

GRAHAM GREENE

Hi.

I sometimes get asked, by well meaning people, why I write fiction. They see it as a waste of my talents. Fiction, after all, is just made up stuff. Wouldn’t I rather be writing something¬†important?

And, like the people saying it, the advice is well meant. It is not meant to denigrate me. Rather, it is meant to denigrate fiction.

Although, honestly, that only makes it worse.

The assumption that fiction is unimportant, while easily disproven, has strangely lingered in the collective consciousness of society. The lie is conspicuous, yet it continues to propagate. And I am at a loss to explain why.

Fiction certainly has an effect on the real world. Just ask Jules Verne or Gene Roddenberry how their creations have shaped modern technology. Or Mary Shelley how her seminal work practically invented the idea of scientific ethics. Or Jane Austen how her books questioned and even undercut the social structures of her time.

The examples of fiction’s usefulness and power to shape real world phenomena are many, to say the least. Even paperback pulp works sometimes go on to a life of far-reaching influence. Just look at Charles Dickens.

Dickens, you may recall, wrote serialized novels published as installments in newspapers. He was hardly a Pulitzer prize winning novelist (and not just because the Pulitzer prize had not been invented yet). Still, he remains one of the most influential writers in history, more so than any biographer or journalist of the same period.

Apparently, fiction is quite important.

But why even bring the subject up? Well, it started when a pattern began to emerge in the recent news cycle.

Perverts in High Places

Readers of this blog already know that I rarely, with few exceptions, comment on current events. There are a number of reasons for this. Mostly, I just prefer my posts to remain timeless, and not get dated, as news-based posts must inevitably do.

Also, I try to avoid blogging about subjects that lead to heated arguments. Controversy can be good for publicity, but the last thing I want is to spend hours on end trying to argue with trolls about a subject that everyone else is already starting arguments over. I prefer this blog to be a place where readers can escape from all the bar fights raging across the rest of the internet.

That said, sometimes current events just strike a bit too close to home. Sometimes, they tie into the subject of writing and fiction, and I feel compelled to take advantage of such glaring object lessons.

Needless to say, but as far as high profile sex scandals go, fiction was way ahead of the curve. Pretty much every work of fiction taking place in a corporate office or government bureau featured extramarital affairs, sexual harassment and assault, and all kinds of transgressions big and small. Novels and short stories treated these environments as rife with lasciviousness.

Yet the news outlets only covered these transgressions occasionally, as if they were some blue moon event that happened only in the most extreme conditions.

And that illusion lasted until recently, when hundreds of accusations surfaced in the space of only a few months, revealing that not only were such incidents commonplace, they’ve been happening nonstop for decades, and everywhere in the halls of power. On both sides of the aisle. In all kinds of different industries. With household names at the center of each story.

Suddenly, the way fiction depicted these high-octane, corporate and governmental environments no longer seemed like an exaggeration. The most grotesque incidents depicted in fictional works were actually quite plausible.

And that’s what I mean when I said fiction was ahead of the curve. For a long time, it was telling us the truths that the news was too afraid to touch.

It Makes Sense

It turns out that many people knew about these scandals before they became public knowledge. The incidents are often called “open secrets”, which is a fancy way of saying that the people who had power to stop the scandals deliberately chose not to. Usually because they were afraid of reprisals.

Yet, to the fiction writer, such reprisals are not an issue. The fiction writer is free to fully describe real world events that the perpetrators would never confess to. As long as they change the names of certain people and places, the unspeakable secrets of the world can be revealed to all.

This is, I think, one of the big reasons why fiction is so predictive of the future, so ahead of the curve. Because a lot of present-day events are hidden from the public, but predicting the consequences of these events is easy. So if you are a fiction writer, you can tell the world what is going on behind closed doors, as well as explain what the aftermath of these actions will be. And, because you occlude the exact facts of the case (while preserving the overall truth behind those facts) you end up looking like some far-sighted soothsayer who knew the future.

Your metaphoric truth blossoms into literal happenings, and people are stunned and impressed.

Conclusion

If fiction was not important, then it would have no predictive power. Yet we see that power everyday. And it comes from the fact that fiction writers are free to talk about those things that are forbidden to news reporters.

For this reason, fiction is often truer than the news, and at least as important.

That is why I write fiction.

 

[This week’s tagline: “Where people come…for unexpected ideas.”]

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