Laird Barron on Writing Toward a Piece of the Truth

From a post on headlined “Laird Barron on leg-breakers, Alaskan hard men, and writing toward a piece of the truth”:

Fiction is the act of forging a myth, of translating a signal into a common tongue. Truth may be the essence of great writing. But the key word here is essence. I think of writers such as J. Todd Scott, Robin Burstein, Chris Irvin, or Joseph Wambaugh, or anybody who possesses hands-on expertise with the brutish side—be it as a law enforcement agent, a victim, or a scofflaw.

A grain of sand in the eye is plenty to flow those tears. A drop of concentrated poison will fill the order. You don’t need to crawl across a dune to know the desert’s out there, gnawing and growing. You don’t need to swallow the whole bottle with the skull and crossbones label when a sip tastes like death. . . .

As an artist, one learns to ration that stuff. A lot of people, arguably most people, want Jack Ryan, John Wick, and James Bond as personal avatars in their pop art. They want Darth Vader and Satan to hoist the Jolly Roger. Black and white. And I get it, truly. I’ve had my fill of dirt sandwiches and the banal evil of heartless bosses and feckless in-laws. Everybody has. Give the audience an archetypal character with a mythic problem and we’re hooked. The uncanny valley of quasi-realism is territory best left to the rare few who can pull it off.

I strive to write even the most fantastical characters and situations with at least a nod to realism. Those characters are often composite images of the living and the dead and it seems the least I can do. Yet, and yet. There are things I want to say, but cannot. I hold my hand to the flame for a moment, and then the pain is always bigger and brighter than I’d reckoned. Writers speak of opening veins and bleeding on the page. Sometimes the real is too raw, regardless of whether it’s strained through the filter of make believe.

Even the bravest among us are on intimate terms with fear. Our job isn’t reportage. It’s tell you half of it and let you dream the rest.

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