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Why truth is in stories

“What is truer than truth?”, asks writer Isabel Allende at the very beginning of her TED talk, below. “Answer: The story.”

How similar to Amy Tan (still from the same interview that I quoted from in my last two posts):

I think that’s why I’m a storyteller. I take all these disparate events and I have to connect them. I have to make them seem inevitable and yet surprising and plausible. That’s what I think life is like, too. I have the luxury to do exactly what it is we all need time to do, and that is just think about the mystery of life.

And how similar to a less poetic author, Dan McAdams, a psychology professor at Northwestern who has

a life-story theory of identity, which argues that modern adults provide their lives with a sense of unity and purpose by constructing and refining self-defining life stories or “personal myths.”

It’s all about the story, in other words. Human beings remember and understand things only insofar as they learn them in a story.

The absence of such a story is what, in my opinion, limits so many non-fiction books. They have an idea or a thesis, but don’t wrap it into a story. So people read until they get the basic idea, then drop the book at page 50. After all, once you “got it”, why waste your time?

In my book, I’m trying to do the opposite. It is non-fiction, but true stories can be more suspenseful and surprising than fiction. And there is an idea, but it comes out through the story.

This is also my main rebuttal to my mom so far, who worries incessantly that I am giving away too much of my secret sauce in this blog, for some anonymous villain to steal it all. What, I keep thinking, would he (or she) steal? The idea without the story? Good luck. As Allende said, you need the story to get the truth. So, mom, for now I’ll keep blogging. Let me know what I’ve overlooked.
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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. She’s a beautiful story teller, isn’t she?

    October 12, 2008
  2. I know. And, in all humility, that’s what I aspire to have people say about me in about a year….

    October 12, 2008
  3. “true stories can be more suspenseful and surprising than fiction”.. how so?

    April 12, 2012
    • I wrote that so long ago, Akshat, I can’t remember why I said that. I think I meant that fictional stories tend to be cleaner. If you’re going to make up a story, you make up a perfect story. But true stories are jarringly imperfect.

      In any case, what i said is not true. There are just good stories and less good stories, good storytellers and less good storytellers. Fiction/non-fiction is not the important thing.

      April 13, 2012

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