writertracy (writertracy) wrote,

Monday Musing – Fiction can’t be as Strange as Truth

Most people know that Mark Twain said that truth is stranger than fiction. But a lot of folks don’t know the rest of the quote. Twain actually said: Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.

Once upon a time (In 1829 to be exact) a schooner named The Mermaid left port in Sydney, Austraila. Its task was to navigate the mostly-uncharted Great Barrier Reef that lies around Australia to provide supplies to Port Raffles, one of the continent’s many colonies. In those days, shipping was the lifeblood of the colonies. Ships would undertake dangerous voyages in order to make sure that the colonists had the supplies that they needed in order to survive.

Within a short time, and thanks to a couple of mistakes on the part of the captain, the ship ran aground on the reef near Torres Straits and sank. The crew managed to escape on ship’s boats and was picked up by another ship named the Swiftsure within 11 days.

Not long after that, the Swifsure also ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef. This time, both crews were picked up by a third ship named The Governor Ready. Despite the fact that The Governor Ready had a full cargo of timber and a full crew of 32 men, it picked up all of the survivors of both shipwrecks.

By this point, a superstitious man would assume that someone on board the Mermaid might be cursed, or may have angered an unknown sea spirit. Because shortly after both ship’s crews had been rescued, The Governor Ready also ran aground on the reef and sank. The combined crew of the three ships managed to survive by taking refuge on one of the long boats.

Depending on who you believe, the combined crew was either picked up by a ship known as the Amity and returned to Sydney (what is likely the true tale) , or picked up by a ship known as the Comet – which then sank, only to be rescued by a ship known as the Jupiter, which took them to Port Raffles before sinking in the harbor. (Some folks embellish the tale further by insisting that the crew was again picked up in the harbor by another ship known as the City of Leeds).

Although part of this account is fictional, it is based on a true story. There was a ship known as the HMCS Mermaid, it did sink on the Great Barrier Reef, the crew was picked up by a number of different ships. All of which sank.

Your readers like to read a story that feels real. The world can be populated with fantastical beasts and monsters, but it must have internal rules that it follows. (Your hero may be impervious to blunt-force trauma, but your reader likes to believe that they still have a skeleton, internal organs and muscles beneath their skin).

In theater, they call this the fourth wall. A reader feels like they are watching the world that you build through an invisible wall. When a character turns toward the reader and addresses them directly, it’s called “Breaking the fourth wall.” With a few exceptions, most readers don’t want to watch characters break the fourth wall, because it takes the reader out of the immersion experience of reading.

Your readers only have so much credibility that they are willing to grant a story. If you stretch reader credibility to the breaking point, you catapult your reader out of the immersion that they enjoy in your story. At that point, you lose your reader.

This is why truth is stranger than fiction; Because truth does not have to worry about catapulting a reader out of their reading experience.
Tags: monday musing
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