Is Truth Stranger than Fiction?


They say that truth is stranger than fiction, but I’m not so certain that’s true. I mean… stranger? …than fiction? Come on.

There is no Harry Potter. And that’s some pretty awesome… and strange… fiction.

When it comes to having Abraham Lincoln fighting zombies, dealing with alien invasions, and facing any of a number of other situations, the idea of fiction is pretty strange.

Want to have some fun? Stick out your hand and take a ride with Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect. Douglas Adams will take you on an incredible journey. That stuff great, and also fiction.

Fiction has no rules. No laws. There is no need, for instance, to commit to something like gravity. In a work of make believe, you can put that to the side and have a person fly with nothing more than a cape. (And the cape is optional.)

Sure, it isn’t always perfect and often times can be frighteningly awkward and incredibly clumsy.

I like to think that one of the most important things needed in order to successfully break a rule in a creative fashion is an understanding of the rule itself. Something that demonstrates a respect for the rule as well as the potential repercussions of any actions battling against it. For example… and we’ll use a fairly well-established and understood law… stopping at a red light.

Let’s say you’re in your car and you’ve come to an intersection. There is a red light, and it’s on your side of the world, meaning you need to slow down and come to a complete stop.

The rebel in you is strong however and says nope… I’m blowing through this light.

Without getting into the legal ramifications involved in this scenario… we’re not discussing cameras or encounters with police officers or even considering levels of stupidity… the question is simply: What is the most important consideration when the action is running a red light? And the answer is, the traffic that does have the right of way.

If you are driving and have a red light on your path, someone else has a green light. And if you don’t want to get into an accident, you need to be aware that people could be driving along and responding to the green light on their path and they do not expect you to pull into their way. And in the rule-breaking results of twisting metal we have our example for your consideration… before you go breaking the rule you need to have an understanding of the rule.

In moving this thought to fiction, what we see is that if you want to break some natural law… like gravity… the authors that are the most successful at it get you to buy into their premise.

You know flying broomsticks don’t exist… I know flying broomsticks don’t exist… but we both know witches use flying broomsticks, and if asked we would all like respond that we felt it would be fantastic if there was a game you could play while riding them.

Does J.K. Rowling ever explain why they ride brooms? Not to my knowledge. But it’s a credibility point between us (the audience) and her (the creator). She’s taken an established rule breaker and built upon it.

But then there’s reality. And even with amazing twists, I wonder if it’s not so much that the truth is really stranger than fiction or more the idea that in the truth we don’t expect these things to happen.

Stephen King is a brilliant and creative author. You don’t need me to tell you that. A history that involves driving off the road and into the care of your greatest fan… a group of unseen that wander and cut lifelines… you know the stories.

And, if you follow King, you know not to go to the great state of Maine. For if you do, you need to be aware of dogs… clowns… cell phones… the inventory of stores… and so on.

Most importantly… just don’t go to Maine. Right?

Reality gives us elections of all sorts, and not just in the United States. Reality gives us celebrity deaths. Reality gives us… well…

Hello, fiction, are you paying attention?

In order for fiction to connect, there has to be something that the audience can grab on to. And that something could easily be nothing more than fantasy. If I want to fly… or believe in aliens… than giving me quality writing that helps reality disappear and slide me into those dreams, however farfetched, can provide the hook.

Rowling is relying on hundreds of years of folklore and fairy tales that have been drilled into our minds. Of course unicorns are special… yes, we’ve all heard of magic wands… trolls and unusual creatures… wonderful. Getting us to believe a wizard was no challenge at all. The entire audience was already familiar with the concept.

The great thing for Rowling though is that those ideas establishes a connection… between her and us that she can use as a rock solid foundation to build upon. (And, hat tip to Rowling, where she went from there was brilliant. Amazing writer and artist.)

When the real world presents these rule-breaking, red-light-running, gravity-defying twists though, most often they come without context or expectations.

Truth isn’t stranger than fiction. It’s more surprising than fiction. And that’s something else.

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