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                Wherein Lies the Truth
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Fiction vs. Nonfiction: Wherein Lies the Truth

"Fiction steps in where the ordinary articulateness of human beings fails. It gives the human soul a voice."

I teach in a prominent journalism school and recently I committed heresy: I published a novel. It was about a Dominican-American teenage mother and was written in the voice of the girl herself.

Immediately, my students wanted to know why I had treated this subject as fiction. Why didn't I just go out and write about a real teenage mother, the way they would? Why did I have to let them down, the suggestion seemed to be, by making things up?

Then I shocked them even further. I told them that I had chosen fiction because I believed it could get me nearer to the truth.

The kind of truth I am talking about is the subjective truth of what it means to be a human being in the world. It is the substance of what happens to people not just on the outside, but within: the longings, the moral decisions, the defiance, suffering, pain and triumphs of the human soul.

This sort of truth has always been the subject matter of fiction because it is hidden from the public eye. It lies in secrets and private experiences. It rests in the silences that follow broken-off words and truncated sentences, and in the spaces between bouts of self-awareness. It hides in the blanks on a reporter's tape-recorder, behind the door after the journalist leaves and inside the mind where no interviewer can go.

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This essay appeared in The Practical Writer, Penguin Books, 2004.

Additional essays by Helen Benedict can be found at featurewell.com When you reach the site, just type "Helen Benedict" in the Advanced Search window. All essays are copyrighted and cannot be reproduced without permission.