After 12/7/2011, this blog will no longer be updated, although content will remain. Please visit my new blog at Hidden Latitudes.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Facts in fiction

Facts can help evoke emotion, especially those that transmit texture, tonality, and sensual detail. But facts can't drive a piece. Research, no matter how compelling, may give me the bones of a fiction, but never the breath and the blood. It's a wonderful, sometimes immensely useful tool that helps give me something to write about. But without the transforming force of the imagination, the result is only information.
In 1936, when a different war was looming on the horizon, Walter Benjamin wrote this:
  • Every morning brings us news of the globe and yet we are poor in noteworthy stories. This is because no event any longer comes to us without already being shot through with explanation. In other words, by now almost nothing that happens benefits storytelling; almost everything benefits information. Actually, it is half the art of storytelling to keep the story free from explanation as one reproduces it... The value of information does not survive the moment in which it was new. It lives only at that moment; it has to surrender to it completely and explain itself to it without losing any time.
Slowly I began to relearn something I’d once grasped but had lost sight of: that emotion -- that central element of fiction -- derives not from information or explanation, nor from a logical arrangement of facts, but specifically from powerful images and from the qualities of language: diction, rhythm, former, structure, association, a metaphor. And sometimes I also had glimmers of another thing I'd once known: how effectively information can be used to wall off emotion. — Andrea Barrett, from the essay The Sea of Information, in The Best American Essays 2005 (The Best American Series)

No comments: