Writing fiction means making choices, but historical fiction adds another dimension to that process. So far, I’ve read well over a hundred history books about the period in which my novel is set (World War II). I’ve been warned that fans of WWII historical novels will find every error I might make, anything that isn’t “true.” Yet, this is fiction and I am making choices that are bound to introduce non-truths because they are made-up people. What I aim for is the “ring of truth,” what’s believable, expecting that it will carry “fictive” truth and that the details that are true will allow the reader to stay in the fictive dream I create. Thinking about this made me look up the definition of these words and phrases.
Starting with “truth,” I discovered that many of the definitions included the word that was being defined, e.g., “the quality or state of being true.” Finding this unsatisfactory, I looked at the suggested synonyms: veracity, truthfulness, verity, sincerity, candor, honesty, genuineness. That helped. But another definition provided something closer to what I hope to achieve, i.e., “that which is true or in accordance with fact and reality.” While the focus is still on truth as “the fact of the matter” and “what actually/really happened” and “the case,” the phrase “in accordance with fact and reality” spoke to me.
I may not offer 100% of “the facts,” because I’m not writing a history, but I do aspire to offer a story that is “in accordance with fact and reality” to offer a form of “truth” that is inherent in the plot of the story (the foundation of which is actually “a reported fact”) and, more importantly, in the characters, their relationships, and the way they deal with what’s around them.
The third definition I encountered was “a fact or belief that is accepted as true.” The plot of my story is “a reported fact,” but it was reported by one individual to another and the second person told me the story, making it third-hand. This immediately calls into question what the first person said and didn’t say, what the second person said and didn’t say, and what I, the third person, remembers and doesn’t remember. What’s left out is often as important as what’s included. Yet, in all three cases, the story is “accepted as true.
Next is the definition of the phrase “fictive truth.” Willow Naomi Curry wrote “that fictive truth allows one to explore possibilities and dive into motivations that literal truth can only speculate about. Rather than simply reflecting reality, fiction can reach into its mysterious, hidden, contradictory depths and bring them into the light. In a way, it becomes truer than the truth” (https://medium.com/@willathewisp/what-cat-person-taught-me-about-writing-reading-and-the-infinite-potential-of-fiction-580614541162). I agree, but the key phrase is “in a way.” Is it “truer than the truth” in a way? Or is it simply how one person sees or thinks about what is “true”?
The concept of truth is a slippery slope. In my historical novel, I want to be “true” to facts, as much as I can, but I also know that I can never be entirely true to those facts and that my interest really lies in the exploration of those “mysterious, hidden contradictory depths” that Curry describes.