Sunday, 24 August 2014

Limits of Storytelling

By Radhika Chhotai Kotecha

One of the first events at this year's Melbourne Writer’s Festival was ‘Limits of storytelling’, a talk between Melbourne writers Maria Tumarkin and Wayne Macauley discussing whether storytelling takes us closer to the truth of our lives or further away.

"By writing a fiction story, I know I am telling a lie," said Wayne Macauley author of Demons, which discusses how stories take us closer or further away from the truth and which The Australian describes as a 'fierce and uncomfortable" work.

But, before delving into the depths of a matter as subjective as truth, event presenter, James Ley, suggested that we first discuss what we mean today by the term "story".

Melbourne-based writer and cultural historian, Maria Tumarkin, suggested that the term has become so semantically elastic that it has essentially become meaningless. As a writer myself, I agree with Tumarkin - we have almost lost the power of narrative.

More than just taking away from the power of narrative, Tumarkin suggested that the we burden the art of storytelling with too much responsibility by expecting stories, fiction in particular, to do too much cultural work to bring about change in our society .

But how close can stories bring us to truth anyway? The answer to this question depends on whose truth are we referring to. While Macauley happily asserts that a fiction-maker is a liar, he qualifies this, by saying that the lie is the author’s alone. The character, as fictional and imaginative as it might be, has only one truth: that created by the author.

In these imaginative worlds a storyteller has the liberty to bend and buckle the realities of this world. Time in particular becomes fluid. Sometimes, in the world of storytelling, two years will fly by in just two paragraphs and at other times a whole chapter might focus on just one day. As a storyteller, it is important that one bends the rules of time to suit the story rather than the other way round. Which is more true? Which world better allows the writer to seduce their audience? The world of the imagination if Macauley and Tomarkin are to be believed.

Macauley insists that if authors were forced to adhere to literal rather that literary truth they would never be able to capture or captivate their audience and offer them a lens through which they might view society. I agree.

As a first time visitor to the Melbourne Writer’s Festival, this was the best start the festival could have given me, tempting me to attend more than one session.


  1. I like to think that behind every fictional character, the author brings some aspect of his past, in shaping and breathing life into his characters. This is contributed by the places he's visited, circle of friends and acquaintances, lost love perhaps and more...fiction could equate to truth and reality in some ways I suppose. Shame I missed this session but thank you for sharing your review.

  2. Also sorry to have missed Maria Tumarkin, a well written piece. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Also sorry to have missed Maria Tumarkin. A well written piece, I agree that the world of the imagination is always the best way to view society. Forget literal truth there is no such thing.


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