27 July 2016

To Tell the Truth

On July 25, the New Yorker published a story by Donald Trump's ghostwriter, Tony Schwartz, with the subhead: “The Art of the Deal” made America see Trump as a charmer with an unfailing knack for business. Tony Schwartz helped create that myth—and regrets it.

Like a best-selling medieval apology, Schwartz’s Confession offers justification, conviction, and catastrophic consequences.

The ultimate result of selling his soul, Schwartz says, “is an excellent possibility it will lead to the 
end of civilization.”

Wow! A writer will be responsible for the world’s end. Cool. The pen really is mightier than the sword.

OK, maybe it isn't so cool. But on a more serious note, Schwartz's cautionary tale sparks a bigger question for me: what is my responsibility to Truth?

The gifts of writing and storytelling are also the gift of persuasion—the ability to get someone to suspend disbelief and join you in a fictional world is no small feat.

The truth often resonates in ways we don’t expect and probably can’t explain. Our earliest tales conveyed warnings and lessons. These stories entertained and helped us learn from others' misfortune, a way to start where others stopped.

As a fiction writer, my stories aren’t true, but all such tales carry deep within them a kernel of Truth. The truth of what our characters do and say. The truth of love and forgiveness. The Truth of optimism and happily ever afters.

But lately I’ve been struggling with a character because where he needs to go where none of my other characters have gone before. But it is his truth. And it is a truth the heroine desperately needs to know exists. And it could well be a truth that one of my readers needs to see.

I just fear that it won’t sell if I embrace that truth.

Of course, not telling this truth won’t line my pockets with gold or bring about the end of the world (thank God) but it will make the story easier to tell and easier to sell.

Schwartz’s confession reminded me that what I do with my talent matters.

The stories you spin matter, too. Ignoring the truth in what you write might not lead directly to a dystopian future, but it could prevent the need for penning your own Historia Calamitatum.

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