Fiction in the Space Between

Do you write to draw conclusions, or do you write to tell stories that let others draw their own conclusions?

After all my years of putting words on paper, I realize I’m only just now learning to let the story speak for itself.  My background is in analytical writing based on research, and in making a case based on evidence.

Our band of essayists on a West Virginia childhood is getting ready for phase one of the writing process, and I find myself thinking more each day about the beauty and value in just telling a story.

Telling a story is not a simple thing.  There are layers of complexity in even the most straightforward tale.  Every few years I become obsessive about listening to this song over and over again, Telling Stories.  What do you leave in?  What do you leave out?  Where is it acceptable to make the story the one you need instead of the one that happened?  And can we really ever know “the one that happened”?  There may be no such thing.

It has always been an omen for me, my recurring attraction to this song.  Tracy Chapman manages to take very few words and weave a spell of the fragile balance between the lies we need, and the truths we fear, and where it all intersects in a human life and in human relationships.  If you don’t know the song, I urge you to learn it.  It’s a lovely piece of music with lyrics that walk you right on the edge of being lulled into comfort before it delivers a rather frightening and questionable suggestion.

My wish for our essays on childhood is that we be willing to walk that line in courage and anticipation of some great stories to tell.

2 thoughts on “Fiction in the Space Between

  1. I’ve never heard that song. Thanks for bringing it to my attention! I am (and have been for awhile) intrigued by the idea that there may not be “the one that happened.” It’s sort of that tree falling in the forest thing. Anything that is observed is interpreted. I remember discussing “unreliable narrators” in a graduate school class when someone finally said, in exasperation, “There’s no such thing as a reliable narrator!”

    • Katharine, your comment just brought back 2 memories of the “unreliable narrator.” The earliest is listening to LPs of Vincent Price reading Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Pit and the Pedulum” in — wait for it — third grade. Our teacher would turn off the lights and we would put our heads down on our desks and try to comprehend these tales of horror. No surprise, I had no idea what the Inquistion was or what was going on, but I knew enough to know this guy was either telling the truth or insane, and it was pretty scary, whichever one you went with!

      In 1990 I remember reading Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent alone in my Washington DC apartment. I really felt bad for this poor narrator, he was being set up something fierce……….or, wait, was I? One night I realized how much I trusted the narrator and there was no real reason to do it, and I literally had a freak out and put the book in another room. Good stuff.

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