In Defense of Fiction Writers

    In a speech before a distinguished gathering of men, in 1926, Rudyard Kipling said: “Fiction is truth’s elder sister, obviously. No one in the world knew what truth was, till someone had told a story. So, it is the oldest of the arts, the mother of history; biography; philosophy ... and of course of politics.” 
    I have written biographies and memoirs for a number of people. I have spent hours helping them to piece together what they wanted to say, and what they wanted to leave unsaid. Every biographer must carefully consider who his audience will be, and how those things he says will affect the people the subject of this biography has known, who are still alive. 
    I have worked with people who wanted their memoirs to depict them as super human heroes, who always succeeded with whatever they set out to do, and who invariably won whatever prize it was they had sought. 
    Your own life is the most personal thing you have. Because there is so much in your life that is emotionally sensitive and difficult to describe, it is nearly impossible to write an autobiography that is wholly truthful.
    Many writers have come to the conclusion that they can only tell the truth of what it means to be alive in a work of fiction, using characters who are composites of people they know, along with characters who are completely made up from the author’s subconscious. And what is it that fills a writer’s subconscious mind, if not the sum total of his experiences?
    Once all the editing of a real life story has been done, and the holes in the story have been filled in with various pieces of fiction, where memory does not have all the facts neatly lined up, can the result truly be said to be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? 
    I get tired of reading biographies, as the writing generally plods along from one event to the next, and it becomes obvious that the author has glossed over any of the subject’s faults or shortcomings. I can all too easily see where information has been omitted, or played down, because the author could not permit certain things to be known. 
    Autobiographies are too often written by people who want the world to believe that they never made a single mistake in their lives, and that they jumped from triumph to triumph, with no pitfalls between. Few, if any of us, lead lives of such steady, never-ending glory. 
    I have never met anyone in real life whose career was so perfect. I have never met anyone who never made a single mistake, or had never been caught in life’s undertows, unless he or she was less than a year old. 
    It is left to the author of fiction to tell that side of the story: the story that tells what happens when you do fall into a trap, with no obvious way out. Stories that describe situations where the main character has only a few choices he could make, and all of them look bleak. And, perhaps it is best to leave these stories to the writers of fiction. Let the fiction writer delve into those emotional wounds that never seem to heal, for he can pour the balm of hope into them, and create a sense of worth in his characters that the biographer who must stay with just the facts can seldom touch. 

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