Finding the Truth

Category: Writing

I am a scientist. It's the way I was educated; it almost feels like the way I grew up. Where is the proof? is a question often running through my mind. Where is the evidence?

But I'm also a writer. It doesn't feel like the way I grew up, but it does feel like the person I grew up to be. And the thing about creative writing is that it is fiction – not fact.

When I wrote papers for scientific journals every line had to be backed up by evidence. Every line had to be provably true. When I started writing short stories I realised that I could pretty much say whatever I liked. I was free! No one was going to ask me to prove that what I said was true, since it wasn't meant to be. It needed to be believable, it needed to be self-consistent, but it didn't necessarily need to be factually accurate. Creative writing, when done well, captures a sense of truth but it also has limitless possibilities for making things up. If I wanted to set a story in a city that didn't exist, I could. If I wanted to say it rained champagne when, actually, it was sunny, I could. If I wanted to write a story in which astral projection was possible, I could. And sometimes I did.

Now perhaps all that newfound freedom has gone to my head, but recently I've been feeling frustrated. I want to go back to getting my facts straight... in a very fictional sort of way. I don't ever want to return to the lab, but I want to write factually about the research that is being done. At the same time, I don't want to be limited by people that actually exist, or by mundane details, I want to create characters that suit the stories I want to tell. I need both, the fact and the fiction, because there is truth to be found on both sides.

Maybe I'm just someone who wants the best of both worlds, but by writing a form of fictionalised non-fiction (for want of a better term) I can satisfy both sides of my character. I can invent weird and wonderful people, I can set stories in imaginary worlds, but I can also make sure that the science in these stories is backed up by the evidence. It might not sound like much of an epiphany, but for me that little bit of fact is just as important as the fiction.


Helen Sedgwick

Helen Sedgwick is a writer, editor and scientist. She received a 2012-2013 New Writers Award.