“Truthful Fiction” might sound like an oxymoron, but it’s not one. In fact, all pieces of fiction include truthful and realistic elements in them. And, one could argue, that all good and engaging fiction is more realistic and truthful than many realize.

The bottom line is that humans crave and produce truthful fiction and tell stories to understand their world and the people in it. And they can’t fully understand the world and the people in it without good storytelling. Why? Because the human brain is hardwired for storytelling for that precise purpose– to understand and respond to the real human world and the real people in it.

The human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor, say scientists who have made attempts to meet the human brain on its own evolutionary terms.

How the Human Brain Became Hardwired to Tell Stories. Big Think. https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/how-the-human-brain-became-hardwired-to-tell-stories/

Any story we tell of our species, any science of human nature, that leaves out much of what and how we feel is false. Nature shaped us to be ultra-social, and hence to be sharply attentive to character and plot. We are adapted to physiologically interact with stories. They are a key way in which our ruly culture configures our nature.

It Is in Our Nature to Need Stories. Scientific American. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/it-is-in-our-nature-to-need-stories/

Solid information in any form is good, Green says. “But that’s not necessarily enough.” A vivid, emotional story “can give that extra push to make it feel more real or more important.” If you look at the times somebody’s beliefs have been changed, she says, it’s often because of a story that “hits them in the heart.”

How Stories Connect And Persuade Us: Unleashing The Brain Power Of Narrative. NPR. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/04/11/815573198/how-stories-connect-and-persuade-us-unleashing-the-brain-power-of-narrative

Isn’t all fiction truthful or based on reality to some extent?

I think it’s important to ask: Is it possible to base fiction (stories) on anything but what the human mind has already processed in some facet or scenario or other already? Meaning, all fiction must be based on some form of reality, even if that reality is creatively skewed or rearranged in some way. No?  

Even works from the science fiction genre include real elements of human behavior and or are based on real things that exist in the human world or that the human brain has processed in some way. As a simple example, consider a centaur (a creature that is half man, half horse), which doesn’t technically exist in the real world but is still made up of two creatures that do exist in the real human world (humans and horses).

Why Truthful Fiction is Important

Such musings on the nature of storytelling and how stories are more truthful and realistic than they seem at first (especially those stories that move and influence us most) leave me considering why. And how we can tap into reality more to produce better stories and works of fiction.

Overall, stories that seem more realistic tend to be more authentic and plausible, which makes them more relatable. And stories elicit more empathy when they’re more relatable. (Read The Strange Thing That Happens In Your Brain When You Hear a Good Story — And How to Use It to Your Advantage.)

Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.

Hannah Arendt

This post offers no more than some of my general musings on the nature of fiction. First, to some extent, all fiction is truthful. As humans, we can’t help ourselves. We impulsively process our world and the people in it via stories. Second, powerful stories are relatable. And stories can’t be relatable if they aren’t truthful or based in reality to some extent.

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