INTERN was going to get started right away talking about the role of truth in fiction, but last night INTERN's roommate dragged her to a crowded open mic and bought her a beer, and several woozy fiction-related revelations ensued relating to music.
So: music it is.
The first person to play at this open mic was this skinny sixteen-year old kid with a guitar that weighed more than he did, and when he took the stage there was this frisson through the mostly 20-something audience, tangible hope that this unsullied young child-master would pull enlightenment down from the heavens and blow everyone's dome. He was young enough to speak truth. Watching him tune his axe was terrifying and nerve-wracking. Would he bring it?
Unfortunately, speaking truth is exactly what he did. To the tune of a seven-minute, structureless, vaguely melodic monologue about how he had a crush on this girl (Name: Cassie. Age: 16. Favorite band: Fall-out Boy. Baseline Facial Expression: Cruel but so beautiful at the same time) and she didn't notice him standing behind her at the beach (Weather: Sunny, in a cruel kind of way. User demographic: Beautiful but cruel teenage girls) and then he rode home on his bike and cried in the basement thought about how sad his parents' lives were ("They just watch TV shows all the time while eating cheetos"), and had the life-changing realization that he would never love anyone else, even after the summer was over and they started 11th grade (State of singer's Heart: Torn into a million shards).
It was all completely true. But that didn't make the song meaningful, or interesting, or even tolerable to listen to. Hm.
The next guy who played was a little older, had facial hair, and wore the wool sweater/scruffy clamdigger combo favored by hipsters everywhere.
His song was about how he wanted to be a buffalo.
The basic premise of the song was the same—boy likes girl, girl doesn't notice boy—but instead of narrating the whole #^$%@ experience blow-by-blow, he just took the emotional truth of the situation and applied it to an imaginary situation, i.e. becoming a buffalo.
INTERN spent the rest of the open mic entertaining semi-tipsy musings on this phenomenon. Consider that Fleetwood Mac song "Landslide": "I saw my reflection in the snow covered hills/till the landslide brought me down." If Stevie Nicks had written a song that went "My dad said he'd stop giving me money and make me get a real job and it made me face some tough realities," people would bleed out their ears. As it is, she used the emotional truth instead of the literal truth. And it worked. Nobody's like "Landslide? Really? What's that all about, Stevie?" People just get it.
One thing that consistently alarms INTERN is that people hear the maxim "write what you know" and take it to mean "write about things that happened to you." This phenomenon probably accounts for 80% of slush-pile lifers.
Behold: Things that happened to you are just events—what you know is emotional truth. Truth = emotional truth. Yes!
Let's say you were raised in a boxcar by your schizophrenic uncle, and grew up believing a 1977 Schwinn road bike could read your thoughts.
That doesn't mean you have to write a novel about a kid with a cleverly different name than you who grows up in a boxcar with etc. etc. But you could write a damn good novel with characters who deal with feelings of isolation, shifting realities, and adversity. Growing up in a boxcar gave you special insight into these matters. And it's way more useful and productive to be an expert on emotions than on boxcars, no?
Similarly, memoirs risk becoming meaningless lists of Events That Really Happened if their authors neglect to examine the characters' inner events and realities. Nobody is going to read your memoir and say "Hey, you left out that time when you watched Air Bud with little Jimmy!" but people are sure as hell going to notice (and stop reading) if you leave out emotional truths. Even though memoirs deal with actual events, they're like fiction in that characters still need depth and some degree of transformation. And for that, you need truth.
So that's that.
INTERN apologizes for lecturing!
Update: Chapter Joust 2k9 is officially closed! INTERN will be up all night reading chapters and, um, making those pancakes.