By Pat Remick
“Truth is stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense.”
So reads one of the writing-related sayings scattered around my office and today, the anniversary of my brother’s birth, it seems more relevant than usual.
Writers know well how real life can be stranger than fiction. All around us we see and experience things that, with just the right twist, could become kernels of great novels, plots for intriguing mysteries or the seeds of unforgettable short stories.
But the realities we observe do not always make sense. An editor might say they need a better beginning or a stronger finish. Or we may never understand the true motivation of the “characters” involved. In fiction, we can correct such things. Unfortunately, we cannot always do the same in life.
For example, someone would have to create the opening chapter of my brother’s story. The first time I saw him was the day my parents traveled to a meeting at Catholic Charities to discuss adoption and unexpectedly returned with a baby son.
Today he is a father, grandfather, successful businessman and respected member of his community. But for much of his life, his origins have been mostly a mystery that only recently he has wanted to solve. What little he’s learned is so compelling that the writer part of me could easily turn it into the plot of a novel.
As a fiction writer, it’s also easy to play the “what if” game. What if his birth mother had not given him up for adoption in what we now know was a supreme act of love? What if she had come looking for him? What if his birth parents had learned what a fine man he has become? What if he had not been so strong in his belief that his true parents are the people who loved and raised him, not those who created him? Each of our stories would have changed and every answer to a "what if" would have propelled our lives in different directions.
Even today, many of the circumstances surrounding his birth remain unknown. His birth certificate was recently unsealed, but it does not list his birth father’s name. He has been told his birth mother’s immediate family is dead. So it’s unlikely there ever will be a denouement, or unraveling of the complexities of his beginnings.
The “fixer” part of me aches to help make sense of this. Unfortunately, it is a gift I cannot offer. It is, however, a reminder that life’s chapters are often not as complete or as detailed as we’d like. Maybe that’s one reason why writing fiction can be so satisfying. It allows us to choose the beginning and the ending, and try to create a world that makes sense in between.