Fiction Is Truth (3)

The more serious the fiction, the more urgent it is that the writing be honest and truthful. Fiction that is primarily entertainment—the funnies (comics), light comedy, tales of adventure, and whodunnits—can get away with some frivolous dishonesty about human nature. But fiction in its most serious form, literary fiction, must portray human beings honestly or it will go unread.

Sometimes the truthfulness of fiction derives from the insight of the writer into human values and how they determine behavior. And often, the moral of the story, even if it is never stated specifically, is the final testament of fiction’s value. The moral of my Last of the Annamese has been expressed in various ways by readers, but it usually goes along the lines of “go on living and loving even in the face of death.”

Hence my conclusion that the fiction writer must tell the truth. Ultimately, my job as a writer of literary fiction is not to entertain but to inform, instruct, and illuminate. If I do my job well, readers will learn to live better lives.

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