Tell the Truth

In today’s Sunday newspaper, the Book Section contains several reviews by NYT critic Janet Maslin. One of her comments is about The Help by Katherine Stockett (Amy Einhorn), a debut novel about black maids working in white Southern households in the 1960s. Maslin says the book is problematic but ultimately winning and that, “when it comes to the love-hate familial bond between Stockett and her subject matter, she tells the truth.” What does Maslin mean?
When we write about our lives or fictionalize some experience, we as writers are bound to tell the truth. Our truth, certainly, but also a universal truth that will be recognized by readers. If we write about the Old South and use heavy dialect as Stockton does, we might be tempted to say it stereotypes the Southern experience. But her writing goes beyond stereotypes.
In my upcoming novel The Fence My Father Built (Abingdon), my protagonist’s father is half Nez Perce Indian and alcoholic. A stereotype of course. Yet the novel also portrays him as a deeply religious, nonviolent and loving person. Other Native Americans in the story hold Ph.Ds, or are educated and productive. I told my truth about the characters as well as I could. If an author tackles a difficult subject, even if stereotypes abound, it had better be written truthfully. Telling the truth in writing means giving each character dignity.
Writing Tip for Today:
When you dive into your writing this coming week, ask yourself if you are drawing your characters (real or imagined) with the dignity and unique qualities each person deserves. If you feel your character is a bit too perfect, give that character some vulnerability, some flaw. If your character is too miserable or pathetic-sounding, don’t let the character roll over or give up. Instead, make your character take a stand and push back against the obstacles he/she faces. The result will be a character that tells the truth.

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About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

1 comment on “Tell the Truth

  1. Hi Linda,
    I am glad to see you are blogging again. I have enjoyed reading them.
    I have tried commenting before, but could not quite figure this all out, especially in the midst of some computer trouble. I am determined to make it work today.
    Thanks for the Tips of the Day. Very helpful. I especially like the idea of using one day a week to market. And a great tip on keeping our characters honest.
    See you Thursday night. Sad it is the last class.
    Have a great day.
    Diane Lemery McDonald

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