|All of us creative writers enjoy the process of telling a story. Your process may be quite different from another’s, but we are all doing something that people have done from time immemorial. This morning I found myself wondering why we are storytellers. Those of you who have children know that from the time they first start talking, children show their penchant for make-believe. As much as we enjoy reading fiction though, we have a double-standard when the fiction is passed off as non-fiction. In other words, we despise deception. Deception portrayed as deception – good; deception portrayed as reality – bad?
In the beginning…. Every culture has its own creation story. Within each story is a description of the origin of that people, their values, their rules and their identity. The story can never be proven or disproven, and rarely is the story put to the test. It seems there’s no need to question when the answer is given to you upfront.
In Western Judeo-Christian society, our creation story is called “The Garden of Eden”. In the story, God made Adam and Eve and they lived in paradise until they disobeyed God. Before the disobedience came the question, the challenge by the Serpent. The Serpent asked Eve why she believed she could not taste the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. It seems that the question was a challenge to everything Eve knew, and she could not give an answer as intelligent as the question. Since she couldn’t defend her beliefs, she gave in to doubt. With one bite, she had changed sides. Suddenly, she knew what God knew, and somehow that knowledge rendered her separate from God, and by extension, from Paradise. Whatever she discovered must have been sublime, because she then convinced Adam to taste the truth for himself. Once they discovered the truth, they were punished.
What is the moral of the story? That depends on the audience. The brilliance of the story is that it speaks with authority to both young and old alike, and it speaks to them at the level they understand. At whatever level you can pose the challenge to the highest authority, the authority will always be higher than you. And that’s why it ultimately goes unchallenged. You never get to reach the knowledge of good and evil, to hold it in your hand; you merely get close enough to obey the moral codes that you know already, the codes of society.
The first work of fiction we come to know is the story of ourselves. One element of the creation story found in the book of Genesis is that you are deceived by your own ignorance. Thus, it seems that ignorance is necessary for an orderly society. In every story that has ever been told since the story of creation, there are two elements that will never fail to be absent: ignorance and omniscience. The point of view of the author determines what the audience will be ignorant of, and what the audience will be omniscient of. Contrary to popular opinion, the facts don’t speak for themselves; they need a spokesperson.
That spokesperson is you, the author. You hold the power; you hold the knowledge of truth and fiction. Your story can either tell the truth of your fictional characters, or it can tell a deception about them. As you invent the materials of your story, you are like a chef who creates something marvelous out of the mundane. You show the reader what they were ignorant of, and what they didn’t know that they didn’t know. You have a relationship with the reader, or more precisely, you and the reader have a shared relationship with your story. You are the all-knowing writer, and the reader knows this about you. However much you know about your story though, you will never know the degree to which your reader knows the truth.
Therein lies the difference between the first story you were ever told, and the many stories you have told since. How will this knowledge shape the stories you have yet to create? Only you can tell.