Monday, March 7, 2011

Law 3: Truth is True

Making Monday

One of the side-effects of the scientific revolution is that we've reduced true to one half of a binary proposition. When we hear, "true," we almost always understand it to mean, "not false," and, by implication, "correct."

We've rarely use the true that means fidelity, as in true love. Aside from that phrase, have you recently heard anyone talk about a true friend? (In this age of ten thousand friends on FaceBook, a true friend seems like an antiquated notion.)

We've lost touch with the true that means constant precision, as in a true course.

And so few of us work with wood that most people don't know that a true board is one that is straight.

The third Law of Making is, "Truth is the substance of true making."

While makers have no patience for falsehood, and enjoy being right as much as the next person, the truth they seek, the truth that is the substance of true making, is closer to fidelity, constancy, and straightness than correctness.

Makers are most concerned with fitness, or the degree to which the thing made fills the measure of its creation. A thing that appears to be one thing but is, in fact, another, is false. A thing, like a warped board, that is what it appears to be but doesn't serve the purpose for which it was created is false.

There are strong parallels in writing: when we ask whether a story is true, we want to know if it is based on independently verifiable facts. And yet we recognize, at some level, that fiction can be more true than fact: that a story can teach us truths in a way that is more real and more meaningful than statistics, experiments, and analysis.

This brings us to the same question: does the writing fit its purpose? In an important sense, the only significant difference between good stories and bad is that the former are true in the deep sense that they are faithful, constant, and fit for their purpose.

Think about it.

Do you write true stories?

Image: Bill Longshaw /