Never Let the Truth Get in the Way of a Good Story


Because I’m a writer of fiction (teller of tales, fabricator of pretend stories), “Never let the truth get in the way of a good story,” is my favorite Mark Twain quote. My second favorite of his is “Get your facts first. Then you can distort them as you please.”

I’ve embraced these ideas in my writing process, and sometimes think about the restraints that producing non-fiction or memoir would put on me. I’d have to write the TRUTH. Yikes.

Let’s say the truth is this: A lady wearing a beige suit is running down the platform of a train station struggling because her suitcase has a busted wheel. She waves to the conductor who, despite the delay it will cause, holds the train for her.

Right away I want to change this, thinking a chartreuse suit would be more interesting. Just a teensy fib. Even better, a chartreuse caftan with a matching pillbox hat. Yes, better. What about a hot pink mini skirt with black fishnet stockings, and platform shoes? No, too cliché.

For me, this is where the true joy of writing lives―in the act of making up stuff and distorting the facts.

Draft 1: Dragging her crippled suitcase down the platform, Monika half-heartedly waived at the conductor, secretly hoping he wouldn’t notice her. If luck was with her, it could be her way out, her excuse. “Sorry I couldn’t make it to the wedding. I missed the train.”

This thought caused her to laugh at herself, considering every item on her body, from the thrift store Salvatore Ferragamo scarf to the Betsey Johnson “Ginger” pumps she scored on sale for $65.00, had been strategically chosen so she would be noticed.

Okay, I like that. Wondering if she’s a guest, or the bride. Let’s see what else I can come up with.

Draft 2: After three clueless attempts to find Union Station from the hotel, Veronica finally convinced the cab driver to call dispatch for directions. Despite the lameness of the cabbie and the nauseating odor inside the vehicle, her overly polite upbringing caused her to feel obligated to tip the man. That is, until he pulled her bag out of the trunk, slammed it into the curb, and broke off a back wheel.

“What an IDIOT,” she yelled, pulling her three-wheeled suitcase through the station on her way to platform 7. “I’ll miss the train.” All eyes, including the conductor’s, turned toward the long-legged woman with the fog-horn voice.

Yes, lots of possibilities. But, let’s get back to the woman in the beige suit. 

Draft 3: Jeanette was familiar with the long walk down platform 7 to her seat in the third car from the rear of the Pacific Surfliner, train 769. Too familiar. She’d walked it every Thursday for three years now, exactly. Today, their anniversary. She wore the suit, the beige one she had on the first time they met. Jerry spotted her and flashed his generous smile. She waved. It didn’t matter that the wheels on her suitcase chose to protest this rendezvous. Jerry would hold the train for her, like he did every Thursday.


Oh the joy of making up stuff. Thank you John, my mentor and friend, for inviting me to your blog.

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