Distortion In Fiction

I like to think that telling a story–whether fiction or a real life event–is much like trying to draw a two-dimensional map of the three-dimensional surface of the Earth: no matter how meticulous, how detailed, or how accurately one attempts to portray it there will always be distortion.

Jurassic Park III came out in theaters when I was about thirteen. It had a rather predictable plot; the characters didn’t have much depth, and if I remember correctly I think it continued some vague, cliche moral about “the consequences of tampering with nature” that had already been exhausted in the first movie and many others like it. What my family remembers most, however, is how my sister and I argued the whole movie about what each of the dinosaurs were called and whether they were being portrayed accurately.

My family growing up has long found amusement in predicting the plots of shows we watch and criticizing any inadequacies or inconsistencies we can find. I’ve been writing fiction (practicing writing fiction?) nearly full time the past two-and-a-half years. In that time I’ve discovered that no matter how meticulous I am about research and getting details accurate (and trying to decide whether sacrificing some of that accuracy allows me to tell the story better at times), my story will never, ever be completely perfect. Oh, I might be able to get a story past people every once in a while in a way that feels so real to them it seems almost flawless. But eventually someone will find a plot hole, an inconsistency, a contrivance, something that doesn’t add up, something that wasn’t explained enough or that had so much detail it felt superfluous and boring.

Something that doesn’t quite work or that doesn’t quite make sense. This used to frustrate the heck out of me because initially I had no idea how to create a story that actually made sense let alone one so amazing my family couldn’t poke holes in it.

Now I realize those holes are what get people talking–about relationships, about their lives, about their values, about civilization as a whole, about the way things work in real life, and about the story itself. Fiction is inherently flawed. There’s no way around it. Rather than shaking my fist at the inadequacies of language and storytelling, I’ve decided those holes are really what storytelling is all about. They’re an intrinsic component of the art.

So, my thought is don’t get frustrated if your story falls short in some way. Keep writing. Find your audience. Have the courage to put your story out there, to let people praise it and criticize it as they will. J. K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyers, Suzanne Collins, and many other authors have hit emotional cords with people around the world and made a lot of money on stories that some consider deeply flawed.

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