1. Beth
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    Beth Member

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    Moral dilemma on writing a "true story"

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Beth, Aug 8, 2013.

    Hi everyone,
    I came up with an idea and was thinking to start with the sentence "this is a true story". Of course it is not a true story, but do you think that stating that is cheating in some way? Isn't all accettable if put in narrative form?
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    There is another thread in the Lounge right now concerning recent programming on edutainment channels that sells clearly unreal "science stories" as the real deal, and there have been a spate of movies over the last few years that pretend to the idea that they are quasi-documentaries cobbled together from "found film" concerning bizarre or supernatural events.

    My personal advice would be that if it's not a true story, don't use that verbiage, but there is obviously evidence of media our there that is doing just that.
     
  3. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    This has been done a lot in fiction, and I don't think it is problematic. To the reader, I think it is pretty clear that it is fiction. Treasure Island is written as though true, with Stevenson going so far as to say there is certain information he is not allowed to provide. Many Lovecraft stories purport within their own text to be true. House of Leaves is arguably written as though it happened. There are a bunch of fictional works with Prefaces or Introductions that set forth some fictional account intended to illustrate how the author came by the information, or how the publisher acquired it, or some other artifice to suggest that what is written really happened.
     
  4. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Most films or novels that are based on or inspired by true events say so. Lawrence and Lee, who co-wrote the play "Inherit the Wind", a dramatization of the Scopes trial, went out of their way to say that it was fiction, not a recreation of what had happened in Tennessee.

    If I picked up a novel in a bookstore and saw that the first line was "This is a true story", I would put it back on the shelf. The very fact that I am looking to purchase a work of fiction means I don't need it to be a true story.

    [MENTION=18889]Steerpike[/MENTION] - many works are written with the "feel" of authenticity. When I first read Tales of the South Pacific, I actually checked to see if Admiral Kester was real. But I knew that none of the major characters were real, and I knew there was never a landing at a place called Kurelei. And Michener didn't say it was a true story, he just wrote it as if it were.
     
  5. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, but if you picked up a book labeled by the publisher as fiction and shelved in the fiction section, would you really think it was a true story just because it said that? As above, I can think of many works of fiction that purport within their own context to be "true." Would you shelve Treasure Island because the narrator is pretending it is true and even saying he has to withhold information because of that fact? What about Princess of Mars, by Edgar Rice Burroughs? It opens with a note from the author to the reader about how it is all true, and gives information about how the author came across the manuscript and what condition it was in.

    I suppose my question is whether anyone is really going to be deceived into thinking a work of fiction is true if it says that. I say 'no,' and therefore don't have a problem with it :)

    EDIT: Ninjae'd! It is true that many are written to feel authentic, but there are some that come right out and say 'this is true,' or all but say it. But the reader understands that it is not true and that pretending it is just happens to be part of the narrative. With Edgar Rice Burroughs, for example, the author flat out states that he got the narrative from the protagonist. We know the protagonist isn't real and that's not true. It's just part of the story.
     
  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    My point is that saying a fictional story is true adds nothing to the story, and I would be put off by the fact that a writer felt (s)he had to resort to such a device.
     
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  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    It may also be a product of the genres people read, I suppose. I read a lot of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. When an author tells me the fictional story is real, I'm not likely to believe them and I view it as part of the story. If I were reading historical fiction, I'd be much more likely to be taken in by the statement. The examples I've been thinking of where the author says the events are real fall within science fiction, horror, or fantasy, where I don't think a reader is likely to be confused by such a statement from the author.

    It is gimmicky, though. You're right. And it doesn't appear to be used as much today as in the past.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yup!... and would put me off, too... i suspect many/most agents/publishers would not be crazy about the idea, either...
     
  9. Beth
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    Beth Member

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    Thanks for your answers. :)

    It is not something I intend to publish though, just an idea I want to give life to, on paper.
     
  10. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Probably not, thought the publication of House of Leaves, which is a debut novel that throws just about any rule of writing you can think of out the window, tells me that if you do something well enough, you can get a publisher to take it on, no matter how unconventional. The problem I see with a lot of "gimmicky" things in stories is that the authors don't implement them very well and it hurts the story.
     
  11. TLK
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    TLK Active Member

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    Pittacus Lore (or to be exact, James Frey and Jobie Hughes) go a step further in the Lorien Legacies series. They too state that all the information in the novels are real (with changed names to protect identities), and adopt a pseudonym which is the name of a character mentioned, and quite important, in the series.
     
  12. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    If it's not true then why state it? It seems a little off to me. I see it as something only worth saying if the story really is true. It doesn't add anything in a completely fictional piece.
     
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  13. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    You're asking yourself the wrong question. You should be asking what's the point of this? What does the ruse do for the story? Why does it need to be stated?

    Personally, I think "this is a true story" is not a good way to start a story anyway. But if there was some reason that made sense, then I don't think deceit is automatically wrong. But I can't think of what this ruse could do for the story so it's hard for me to evaluate if the deceit is justified.
     
  14. Mckk
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    It happens a lot in fiction. I still remember Goethe's "Sorrows of Young Werther" was written as if the entire thing was a compilation of historical documents (namely, Werther's own personal letters), complete with footnotes and missing words and an introduction and comments at the end. I got rather confused actually half way through, wondering if I was indeed reading something real lol. This one was done with particular skill, I must say, but then what else would you expect from a German classic? :)

    Anyway, if done well, it'll be fine. But it is a well-known device and if you start with this, you'll have used up your cheese limit, which means the rest of the opening better be excellent or very interesting. Use anymore cliche immediately after such an opening, and you'll probably put a tonne of people off.

    Is there any reason, other than trying to be clever and grabbing the reader, for using such a device? Don't fall into the trap of simply grabbing the reader with fireworks and whistles, because if you do something like this for the sole purpose of grabbing the reader, they're going to be let down afterwards, and dislike your book all the more for it. Better not to be remembered at all than to be remembered for the wrong reason, I say (by "wrong reason", I mean writing badly and/or annoying/disappointing the reader). Use the device if it has a real purpose for your story - don't do it just because it's cool, because then you wouldn't be able to live up to the reader's expectations.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Crichton's The Andromeda Strain is prefaced with an assertion that the events therein are real.
     
  16. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it's perfectly fine if the book is declared as fiction and there's a disclaimer. A character is saying 'This is a true story', its just a part of their narrative, right? What would be wrong is if the writer lies to the audience that something is a true story, ie tried to sell it as non-fiction.
     
  17. Motley
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    Motley Active Member

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    I think if the character is saying it's a true story, that's fine I think, if it's the type of character to say such things. If you're having some sort of author intrusion telling the reader it's true before you get into the book then it does come across as pretty cheesy.
     
  18. Luna13
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    I don't think there is anything technically wrong with beginning that way, as I've read many books that are obviously fictional even though they claim to be real - A Series of Unfortunate Events, for example - but I do think that beginning with that sentence is a bit lazy, because it's unoriginal and a dull way to start a story.
     
  19. rhduke
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    rhduke Contributing Member Reviewer

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    This
     
  20. Norm
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    Norm Contributing Member

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    Instead of flat-out stating 'this is a true story' in a fiction story, wouldn't it be a better approach to just write the novel in such a way that the reader may consider, "oh, I wonder if this could actually happen." or "hm, I wonder if this is based off actual events with only the names and minor details changed."
     
  21. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Is the narrator, your MC, a complete liar? Does he live in dreamland? Unable to tell the truth even if hovered strategically legs-akimbo over a circular saw blade?

    If so it would be fun...
     

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