There seems to be an increasing number of alternative realities and elaborate conspiracy theories that reimagine facts as mutable bits & pieces. No, I’m not going to pile on to one of the competing bandwagons shouting about ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative facts.’ There are certainly enough people already shouting. Right now, I’m interested in how the narratives get shaped.
From a fiction writer’s point-of-view, how does one create credible stories that mix real world ideas, trends, fashions, and references, at a time when non-fiction is rapidly reshaping real world ideas, trends, fashions, and references into fantastical versions of the truth?
Is THE TRUTH in the eye of the beholder? Are facts subject to radically different interpretations? As a consumer of news from several sources, I think I have a finely tuned bullshit meter. Either numbers add up or they don’t. Right? And yet, purveyors of opinion-driven news finesse the math with fungible parameters, estimating growth based on optimistic estimates of economic vitality or by mixing and matching facts to build a different, and more favorable, projected chain of events for a particular policy, law, or action.
In the context of fiction, a storyteller can limit the focus of the narrative by narrowing the story’s point-of-view. The myopic detective is a staple of mystery fiction. He, or she, decides early in the story that a particular suspect is guilty and that makes it easy for the detective to miss inconvenient facts that don’t fit the preconceived solution to the crime. The guilty party may even contribute with misdirection supporting the detective’s mistakes.
But the truth comes out at the end of the mystery. Another detective, professional or amateur, uncovers the missing or ignored facts and the killer is caught. The incompetence, prejudice, or simple laziness of the initial investigation doesn’t win in the end, because the first theory was not based on the evidence. The facts—the actual facts—can’t be replaced by an alternative narrative that holds up in mystery fiction. I can’t say that it’s the same in reality, where every fact may be reinterpreted to suit an alternate scenario.
The further we go toward alternative realities on the news, the harder it’ll be for fiction writers to create credible, reality-based stories. It might be time for me to add a monster, magic, or mythical beasts to every story. At least those are alternative realities that make good use of alternative facts.