Truth and Honesty   1 comment

Not long ago I participated in an afternoon-long writing seminar led by novelist Ron Currie, Jr.  He asked an intriguing question, aimed at those of us who have worked on memoirs.

“What part of the story did you NOT tell?  What is it you were reluctant to write about?  Where did you hold back, and why?”

There were seven participants (Oddly, all the others were women.  I, and Currie, were the only males in the room.)  The responses ran the gamut.  One woman, an advertising copy writer by trade (so she told us) claimed to have NEVER been reluctant to write something.  I, on the other hand, freely (and painfully) confessed, to this room full of strangers, that I had indeed pulled back.  Then, I told them what had been left out.  Several, I believe, found it shocking – particularly one woman who had indicated that her writing was informed by her Christian faith.

Why was I so forthcoming?  Perhaps I had a nagging and supressed fear that I had not been Honest, and Currie’s question, witnessed by people with some level of common interest but whom I had little likelihood of seeing again, surfaced that concern.

Since that time, I have revised Mowry Beach, and the Second Edition (soon out)  includes the two parts I didn’t previously tell.  My purpose now is not to elaborate on what those were, but instead to look at why I flinched.  If you want to find out what the two parts were, you’re going to have to get your hands on one of the First Edition copies that are out there, and compare it with the Second Edition.  In preparing the revised version I will confess to having succumbed to every writer’s itch to tinker with the prose (It’s never quite good enough, is it?).  Two scenes were added, and a few more were worked on (hopefully, the tampering improved the read).

So what’s this all about, anyway?  Let’s start with some definitions.  The first version of Mowry Beach was Truthful.  Maybe I dramatized a few parts, but I didn’t make any up, and the events were faithfully described.  Even ‘The Bridesmaid’s Revenge’ was a true incident, except for the part about the riding crop.  That one woman did wear out those four men, and presumably everybody went home with a smile.  There was not a single scene that was not the Truth.  One, in fact, the scene in Beltway traffic, I believe to be understated.

Honesty, by way of contrast, strikes to the heart of motivation and causality – it transcends the Truth.  An Honest statement may in fact be less Truthful than one that is simple Truth, if the embellishment shines a flashlight on the moral choice:  the turning point that may otherwise lie obscured in the shadows.

So what’s the big deal?  Hold on – here it comes.  Without those two added parts, the entire tale was a bit less than fully Honest.  Both had to do with choices and consequences, and both left lasting impressions.  Yogi Berra famously said, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”  Both of these included a fork, and in both cases the choice not taken would ultimately have meant, for me (and therefore others), a whole different world.  Mind you, I’m not passing judgement on the chosen fork, or the fork left in the road; all I’m saying is that the consequences would have been more than subtle.  The ‘thread of life’ is often knotted and tangled, and it is our job as writers to help the reader follow where it goes.

One of the two, in fact, was funny and hardly heart-wrenching.  The fact it didn’t make the First Edition was an oversight, not a decision.  But it was still illustrative of how random events can result in major – albeit innocent – differences.

The other one, when loved ones discover it some time from now, will undoubtedly cause pain, although no one now close to me was even slightly involved.  I did consider this part when wrapping up the First Edition, and chose not to tell it.  The result, I know now, made the story less Honest.  Will they think less of me when they find it?  Perhaps, but maybe they will also better understand the story-arc, and how that part affected the conclusion.

So what of it?, you ask.  (Yes you did, I heard it.)  The question is more easily asked than answered.  What have you left out, and even more importantly, why?

I know why I left that one part out, and why.  On later reflection and prompted by Currie’s question, I decided to put it in.

So, Dear Reader, are there any forks that you chose to leave on the road?  Can you share with us, not what they were, but why you left them in the dust?  And what impact that decision has on Honesty?

Lubec, October 2012

Posted October 24, 2012 by JD Rule

One response to Truth and Honesty

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  1. Thank you for your thoughts on honesty as I found myself at the fork in the road recently. I appreciate the importance of writing the truth in its raw form, and I agree that if one removes the truth the conclusion may or not be understood to the magnitude or impact it may have otherwise. My writing began truthful and evolved into a fictionalized version of my life. The focus to protect the guilty as well as the innocent, (but mostly the guilty), took over and became the focus instead of just telling the story. It stalled my pace, I was nauseous at how to proceed and eventually I could not break through writers block. Reading your article, my “aha” moment came forward like a slap on the face….at some point I stopped writing for myself and began writing for others, I lost my truth. The irony is of course that when I silenced my truth, my writing ceased. So I have started again to write for myself and to tell the story that wants to be shared. The actual true story not the watered down edited version that would undermine my integrity and chip away at my purpose for revealing it to begin with.

    V Chamberlain

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