Which Truth Do I Write?

Staging Charlie’s motorcycle trip story (New Zealand, 2019)

By Mark W. Travis

Before each TRAVIS TECHNIQUE workshop, directors are tasked with writing a 3-minute autobiographical story, based on an event in their life.

This is a letter from New Zealand director, Charlie Haskell, who is writing about a motorcycle trip he took with two of his friends 28 years ago.

Hi Mark

I just had a question about the right approach to authenticity while writing the short story.

While I don’t have a good memory of what was said between Jimmy, Tom and myself all those many years ago, I do have a good feel for what our relationships were like. I’m wondering if I should be true to those relationships, or not worry about it too much in the interest of writing a good drama?

If I didn’t know these people I would certainly be creating the characters and relationships freely, to serve the drama. While I didn’t feel bad about creating dialogue that certainly never happened, I’m not certain about changing the core of a character, and therefore relationships.

It may be that I’m just being a lazy writer, and that what I really need to do is to delve deeper into the heart of the 3 of us, 28 years ago, see what was truly driving us, and discover what we really felt about each other? If this is the case I may have answered my own question, but I’d love to hear what you think.

Thanks a bundle,

Charlie

 

 

MY RESPONSE:

Charlie,

Great question. A central question to all the work we do as storytellers.

Robert McKee’s mantra is “Write The Truth.” But … what IS the truth? And whose truth? And where do we find truth? In what people say? What they do? How they feel? And what about truth that is kept hidden?

You wrote:

I’m wondering if I should be true to those relationships, or not worry about it too much in the interest of writing a good drama?

If I didn’t know these people I would certainly be creating the characters and relationships freely, to serve the drama.

Yes, you would. But only because you don’t know those characters, so you have to create them. And you will, most likely, create them to serve the drama. But in our autobiographical stories we must serve the characters first, and let them lead us to the drama. That is how we discover what our (true) stories are really all about.

Follow the characters. Be true to the characters and the relationships. Let the events (and dialogue) unfold because of who the characters are, what they want, what they do.

While I didn’t feel bad about creating dialogue that certainly never happened, I’m not certain about changing the core of a character, and therefore relationships.

Right. Don’t change the core of the characters or the relationships. As for the dialogue, allow yourself to imagine, improvise or just blindly create what you think the characters would say to each other. Or even let them say what they wanted to say but never said. Your dialogue is meant to reveal the inner truth of the characters and relationships. We’re not interested in an accurate replaying of what was really said.

And, Charlie, since you know these characters well, there is no way you can veer far from the truth of who they are in your dialogue. Also, remember, some of the dialogue may be an attempt by the character to cover up the truth that you, the writer, know so well.

It may be that I’m just being a lazy writer and that what I really need to do is to delve deeper into the heart of the 3 of us, 28 years ago, see what was truly driving us, and discover what we really felt about each other? If this is the case I may have answered my own question, but I’d love to hear what you think?

Yes, you answered your own question. You already knew the answer before you started writing to us but in the writing of your email, you worked it out and arrived at the same answers that I’m giving you. Don’t you just love writing? Writing is a process of questioning and probing which leads us to a deeper understanding of ourselves and our own truths.

Well done. Keep writing and feel free to connect with me any time.

All the best,

Mark

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