Fiction Is Stranger than Truth?

Is fiction really that much more dramatic or convenient than real life? That is the consensus and I can’t deny that at first blush it makes sense to say so. After all, how often do we find our lives, or even our day unfolding in such a linear, logical, dramatic manner as found in a well written story or movie?

No doubt the details of our fiction most relevant to a message or theme are more directly laid out for us then they are in life. Patterns are easier to see in a good story than they are in reality, and life doesn’t always tie up loose ends, (for the good or the bad) as well as a story does. If at all.

I’ve been wondering lately, (without having come to any sort of conclusion on the matter) if life is actually more chaotic and less orderly and meaningful than good fiction, or if instead real life is simply surrounded by a million and one distractions that prevent us from seeing the poetic in the everyday.

Note I say “everyday”. For quite often something big, or at least something odd will occur in our lives that draws attention to the sometimes story-like nature of reality. “Truth is stranger than fiction” is the cliche applicable to these times. I feel bold enough to say, however, that for most people, the so called “average” day is not as exciting as the average chapter in the fiction we love. That is, one could argue, one reason we read fiction in the first place.

I’m reminded of a little known and quite strange Robin Williams movie I saw once called, The Final CutIn it, memory chips have been developed that one has implanted into the brain at birth. These chips literally record every moment in the entire life of the host. What they see through their eyes and what they hear through their ears. Even what they dream. At the end of life, the chip is given to a technician (Williams), whose job it is to edit the footage of an entire life into a narrative to present to the world. A narrative that will sum up the admirable aspects of the person’s life.

There is a scene early in the movie when Williams places one of these chips into his editing machine. The computer is designed to automatically set aside certain types of tedious footage. Hygiene, using the toilet, silent reading and other such activities are eliminated from the titular final cut. The result is a life with a theme. An arc. Or at least with a collection of readily identifiable patterns and positives.

So a story emerges when the extraneous material is removed. One of the themes of the movie, as you can imagine, is the type of moral dilemmas that can arise when editing the footage of terrible people into a more palatable arc. Who is to say, after all, what is “extraneous” and what is not? I won’t answer that question here, but I present this example to bring this to mind; is not every story ever told an example of removing the extraneous and pointing to the aspects most related to what the story teller wants to say?

Even if you don’t write fiction, you still do this. Nobody would ever listen to the story of your wild trip to Vegas if you had to include each trip to the bathroom, each shower, every person you said hello to. You remove, or at least try to remove, the extraneous, and get to the point that will most entertain the listener. (Though sadly, many people fail to do this, especially pertaining to stories about Vegas.)

So is fiction really elevated above “normal” life? Some of course is. No amount of editing out of the extraneous is going to reveal a Tolkienesque reality to our daily life in the world as we know it. Yet I can’t help but wonder if our lives would at least seem a bit more like our fiction if we “zoomed in” a bit more. Took a few more close-ups.

Fiction can be escapism, no doubt. But is it possible that the tiniest belief that what we are reading could actually be happening all around us is what keeps us coming back for more fiction throughout our lives?


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