Truth is Stranger than Fiction
“Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; Truth isn't.”~Mark Twain

We’ve all heard this quote a few times. Do you think it’s accurate and if so why? In my opinion, truth is stranger than fiction because sometimes in life there is no rhyme or reason for things happening, or for people doing certain weird things. Real people don’t always have proper motivation for their behavior or for their decisions. They just do it because they feel like it. For instance, in real life people become doctors because they want to be doctors, pure and simple. In a story, however, we’re usually expected to provide some sort of motivation for a character wanting to become a doctor. For instance, maybe a parent of the character died of a certain disease so the character promises to find a cure for this disease or help lots of others to fill the gap of not being able to help their loved one.

In real life, a murderer may have no motive or a very weak motive for committing a terrible crime. But in fiction, our villain needs to have strong motivation to be believable.

It’s true, some things that actually happen, that you see on the news would not be believable if they were written in a fictional book. The author would need to add something to shore it up, some strong reason that it happened.

Some people believe this quote is true because they believe authors can’t think up or create anything as bizarre as things that sometimes happen in real life. I doubt this is the case. Most authors are highly inventive, but we are obligated to stick to a certain number of rules and to make our stories believable. The reader already knows our stories are fiction, so we are constantly trying to convince them to suspend disbelief.

Now, to totally contradict myself… I write some pretty bizarre things in my stories, such as heroes who shape-shift into mythical creatures, and characters who travel through time. These are not seen as bizarre anymore in romance fiction. Lots of stories contain these elements. But compared to real life, they are strange. Some scientists believe time travel may be possible, but so far they’ve only proven it can happen for a few seconds. So, at the moment, time travel is something fictional that is actually stranger than truth and yet still believable within the story realm. Humans who change into animals have been a part of legends for centuries. I even grew up with stories of long ago witchcraft in which the witch magically changed a human into an animal. But I haven’t actually seen this happen. Have you? So, that is another fictional thing that is stranger than truth and still believable.

Why do you think truth is stranger than fiction? Or is it?

16 Responses
  1. Truth is certainly stranger than fiction. How many times have looked at some people and thought: if I wrote a character like, my critique group would laugh me out of the room...

  2. Camryn Rhys Says:

    I think it was Stephen King who said something to the extent of "Truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense and truth doesn't."

    I like that a lot. On the other hand, part of what I think makes fiction interesting is to insert bits of truth into it. I've often heard, when I get critiques or contest results back, that the little bits of truth are the things people connect with. Interesting to me that even in fiction, it still needs to feel like truth.

  3. Jennifer Probst Says:

    HI Nicole,
    I love this topic, it's rich for both life and writing. I think sprinkling truth into a story makes it so much more real, because I agree completely with the quote! Human beings have the capacity to amaze us, on all levels - good and bad. Bring those elements into a story and you have great fiction. Our job is to dig a bit deeper and sketch in the background/motivation. In life, we don't normally get the background, just the surface, and that is why truth seems stranger!

  4. Great topic, Nicole. 'Strange' can be interpreted by people differently depending on their frame of reference. Where I can easily suspend belief and enjoy stories with paranormal elements, my mother never could. Culture also can play into it. What might seem strange in one culture might not in another. For me, part of the enjoyment of reading is being swept away to another world. If tidbits of strange truth spice a story, all the better. :)

  5. Nicole North Says:

    Carole, LOL absolutely! I've felt the same way at times.

    Camryn, I love that quote too! Fiction does have to make sense. And I agree about putting truth into fiction. True historical details can really make a story come to life.

  6. Nicole North Says:

    Jennifer, absolutely. I love what you said about how in real life we don't always get the background or motivation for odd behavior. Maybe only the person knows it and it doesn't get reported in the news.

    Dawn, thanks! I love those strange but true tidbits in a story too! They can sometimes be fascinating.

  7. Great topic, Nicole. We may not always know the motivation of real-life villains, but they probably have one, unless they're mentally ill. Even then, there's some motivation like the Son of Sam and his dog talking to him. My husband works in law enforcement and he's always telling me bizarre stories!

  8. Truth is stranger than fiction. In the real world (for lack of a better word) we have the possibility of miracles and coincidence. In fiction, both are viewed as unbelievable and almost always edited out.

  9. Hi Nicole,
    Interesting topic!
    Truth is stranger than fiction: I think because in the real world there doesn't always seem to be any rhyme or reason as to why something has a certain outcome. Sometimes there's no logical reason why the outcome is the way it is. In fiction, the author is expected to provide the logical reasons, the step by step reasons why the outcome is the way it is.

  10. Nicole North Says:

    Carol, thanks! I'm sure you're right. I bet you get all sorts of great story ideas from your husband. Very cool!

    Keena, that's true. Coincidence and miracles don't usually work in fiction especially toward the end of a story.

    Casey, thanks! I agree. Motivations in real life are not always as strong and clear as they need to be in fiction. For instance, why do I write? Because I love it and want to. Chances are that wouldn't work for a character. They'd need more motivation.

  11. Maeve Says:

    I think truth is stranger than fiction because no matter how long you contemplate the human race...there's just NO figuring them out. (myself included) :-)

  12. Roz Lee Says:

    Truth is most certainly stranger than fiction. All you have to do is watch the news. As the saying goes, "You can't make this stuff (edited) up!"

  13. I absolutely agree that truth is stranger than fiction. My husband had a friend who lived through a divorce situation that was so weird and hard to believe anyone could be so stupid that I kept saying if I tried to write this story nobody would believe it much less buy it. You wonder why people act the way the do sometimes. I suppose it's jumping into things without giving them thought first.

    I try to put bits and pieces of my life's experiences into my stories. I can certainly draw from my own emotions to try to convey feelings to readers. I suppose if I cry when I write them, the reader might cry as well.

  14. Nicole North Says:

    LOL Maeve, that's so true about the human race.

    Roz, I agree! Some weird things get reported.

    Paisley, absolutely about the true emotions in writing and crying while writing. I know I need to feel whatever emotions I'm trying to convey so the reader will feel them.

  15. Molly Says:

    I do believe truth is stranger than fiction because it's real. If we read something in a book we cannot believe or grasp we can always dismiss it, but if a synchronicity or miracle happens in our life, it cannot be so easily explained away. I was recently introduced to a book called "Soul Mate" by Ronald Lewis Weaver and it's all about synchronistic and fated romance between a young teacher and her 18 year old student. They share dreams, and find themselves being thrown together by fate so that, through their relationship, they can accomplish a greater purpose. I firmly believe this kind of thing happens all the time. So which would seem stranger to most people? A book about this phenomenon, or an actual soul mate experience? Interesting topic to ponder! Thanks for posting!

  16. Nicole North Says:

    Thanks Molly! I agree! Some amazing, unbelievable and wonderful things happen in life.

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