Nothing but the Truth

Cover of "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd"

Cover of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

I do solemnly and sincerely and truly declare and affirm that the evidence I shall give shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

As a fledgling crime writer in England these words should at least be embedded somewhere in the background or at least in the minds of some of my characters. Yet just because a witness claims to speak the truth, should all my characters be honest in their dialogue and thoughts? I do not have the skill of Agatha Christie to pull off the deception in Murder of Roger Ackroyd, but most of us are not totally honest so why should my fictional creations be? So my readers don’t get confused?

I try to ensure that the characters are not totally contradictory in their words and actions, unless that is clearly part of their make-up and consistent across all their actions. Deception can be a part of someone’s persona as long as it is believable. However it’s realistic to portray most people as having layers of personality and masks to hide certain things – isn’t it?

What is Truth anyway? Surely what one person sees as the truth can be another’s injustice or lie. Some people make an art of justifying their own actions and that works as much for protagonists and antagonists. Gone are the days of white-robed heroes versus black-caped villains. The power of Truth has also diminished over time, or so it seems if one glances at the following quotes:

Anti-Stratfordian Mark Twain, wrote "Is S...

Anti-Stratfordian Mark Twain, wrote “Is Shakespeare Dead?” shortly before his death in 1910. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Truth will ultimately prevail where there is pains taken to bring it to light.

GEORGE WASHINGTON

Truth is mighty and will prevail. There is nothing the matter with this, except that it ain’t so.

MARK TWAIN, Mark Twain’s Notebooks

Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods.

ALBERT EINSTEIN, Ideas and Opinions: Based on Mein Weltbild

Or does this show that it all depends on perspective? Does Truth prevail as long as the judge and jury are society and not a single group or person? Sometimes it seems that the media can become judge, jury and executioner … or maybe I should say politicians decide they are. But then I’m only a retired journalist that tried to report only the facts, although those were often the facts as stated by those I interviewed.

However, there was one article that I had to research very thoroughly as it was a controversial doping incident – equestrian not cycling. I attempted to interview parties on all sides, and when I wrote the article for an online equestrian site, I ensured that it was a balanced assessment. Fortunately there was almost unanimous agreement that it was one of the best reports at the time.

English: Toronto: Winston Churchill statue at ...

English: Toronto: Winston Churchill statue at City Hall Deutsch: Toronto: Winston Churchill Statue am Rathaus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Was it still my version? Can a writer ever stand back and be objective? Winston Churchill said, ‘History is written by the victors‘, and looking back over thousands of years that seems so wise. What I was taught in school about the Roman Empire took their point of view, not the ‘barbarians’ that we now know had as rich a culture but it was subjugated by the victors. How much of the negative image of Marie Antoinette was Revolutionary propaganda? How will Nazi Germany be remembered if fascism writes future history books?

I’m moving perhaps into the area of Alternate History, which in most cases is merely a fiction genre akin to science fiction, although there are some excellent academic works out there. But maybe some of the old historical accounts that were once authorities strayed too – strayed from the truth for justified reasons that might have been called for dramatic or political effect.

Thus I ask again: what is Truth? My protagonists think they speak the truth but the antagonists have their own version. If a jury was asked to make a judgement then both versions would be tested, as are the jury of readers. And if the tale was turned on its head and told by the guilty victor, who would know? Is the innocent man telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

A truth that’s told with bad intent
Beats all the lies you can invent.

WILLIAM BLAKE, Auguries of Innocence

*~*

Inspiration from a source close to my heart: http://duskweald.wordpress.com/2013/01/20/snow/

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2 thoughts on “Nothing but the Truth

  1. I think that as a crime writer my job is to make it believable. people lie, thus so do my characters. As long as the protagonist does not lie to the reader all is fair (in my opinion).
    I understand your point and try to put into my works a sense of believability, 3 dimensional characters are much more entertaining as well. I think there are plain bad people but I also feel that the majority truly feel that what they do is justified.

    • Believeability is the key as you say. And yes I like to think it stems from how 3 dimensional the characters are. As I move from crime to fantasy, the same is true… if the world building is not believable then the story fails to hold the reader. All the best

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