Thursday, October 27, 2011

truth in fiction

a friend of mine [oh, hi, jenni] just asked her blog readers what our opinions were on age recommendations as a part of a book review.

and it immediately got me thinking about a related subject. how much darkness is okay in a novel? how many bad words? how much sexual innuendo or content? consider the following:

-we read A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS in my neighborhood book group and a few of the ladies took offense at the ugliness in the novel and suggested we should only read books published by DESERET BOOK.

-another friend brought back a few books i had loaned to her and said she just couldn't finish them because of the language in them. books i love. a friend i love.

-i told casey anne (who is 12) that she couldn't read a book because of the content until she was older.

-consider this excerpt from NORTHERN LIGHT by jennifer donnelly:

"it seems to me that there are books that tell stories, and then there are books that tell truths...the first kind makes you cheerful and contented, but the second kind shakes you up...why do writers make things sugary when life isn't that way...why don't they tell the truth? why don't they tell how a pigpen looks after the sow's eaten her own children? or how it is for a girl when her baby won't come out? or that cancer has a smell to it?...why doesn't anyone tell you that?"

my first novel is the sugary kind. in my current project, i am attempting to tell truths. MY truths. the emotional truth of addiction and prodigality and shame. and there is drug abuse and swearing and ugliness. and i've wondered why i have that all inside of me and why i feel a compulsion to write it down. because i also believe this:

everything we read stays with us, effects the level to which we can recognize and respond to the spirit. when we spend our time with filth, we lose that precious influence. i think this is a good and valid reason for censoring what we read and what our children read.

HOWEVER—and this is a huge however—i think the written word is at its most powerful when it contains truth. and how can you show the power of redemption, of forgiveness, the triumph over darkness and the beauty of returning to the light if there was no mistake made? no darkness followed into? no pigpen mired in? what power would the parable of the prodigal son have been with no prodigal and only the faithful son that stayed home at his father's side?

my favorite books will always contain a bit of that darkness, a bit of that rawness and grittiness because it makes the resolution that much more bright and beautiful. and to me, true.


  1. You always have such a powerful way to conveying things. I always feel like I push my opinion on people or I'm too brash. But, you are subtle and powerful in the way you relay your beliefs to others. I definitely aspire to be like you.

    One of the problems I have with LDS Fiction is that it doesn't show life in its truth. It may contain truths that we, as LDS members, believe. But, it takes out the ugliness of this world or waters it down so much that when the beauty happens, it's not as powerful.

    I firmly believe in opposites. You can't know beauty without the ugliness. You can't know joy without depression. And, books that can show both sides of life are the books that I appreciate. And, like you, I'm still picky about what I read. I won't read or watch things that I feel are just purely for lust or other sexual, violent, etc. fantasies because I don't feel like they add value to my life like the books that do contain swearing, drugs, addiction, redemption, etc. in them do.

    I hope that makes sense. :) And, thanks for the link to my blog!

  2. really to the first item on your list? sad. although, that book made me cry more than almost any other.

    i'm with you. i prefer truth and a little darkness in books. and we all know i get a good kick out of the 's' word - i hope you have one of those in your book, just for me? :)

  3. You have precisely one week to come up with a really good reason of why I haven't read your first book. :)

    Yay! Aren't you excited to see me?

    Back to this post... Let's talk about the Book of Mormon when I'm there. I've found people are very interesting with what they read. I think people feel more offended when they read things than when they watch them. (Except Angela, she's quite the opposite when she reads and hears fowl language. Just kidding.) It's like when they watch it, there is no evidence what they saw/heard. But the written word is always there and turning the page doesn't make it go away. That might not make sense, but in my head it does.

  4. re: Northern Light quote

    I think some books do both. :)

    So a friend of mine is stuck in the hospital waiting for her baby to not be born until it is born and all that. She overheard a dehydrated teen mother having a meltdown about getting IV fluids -- "That white witch [the nurse] is trying to kill me! Why am I so cold?!" etc. I thought, 'this girl needs a story. somebody already tried to tell her the truth, i'm sure, but she needs a story to take home.' She needs a nurse to come in there and tell her that she has a hundred little devils dancing in her veins and they gotta freeze their little horns and tails off with this IV water.

    Sometimes people need the facts, sometimes they need a story. Always people need truths. Depends on the person, depends on the time.