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Winding Oak's Bookology Magazine

Crossing the Border

by Lisa Bullard

12_3MooseMountieOnce when flying back to the U.S. from Cana­da I met up with some zeal­ous bor­der con­trol agents. The cus­toms guy want­ed a detailed descrip­tion of what I’d pur­chased.

I bought one of those sou­venir snow globes with a lit­tle Moun­tie inside,” I said.

The guy thought a moment and then sad­ly shook his head. “Ma’am, if you’d played your cards right,  you could have tak­en home the real thing.”

The immi­gra­tion guy looked me up and down and then barked out, “What’s ‘Oshkosh?”’

It’s either a small town in Wis­con­sin or a kind of over­alls,” I said. I was hop­ing for a gold star, but instead he rolled his eyes and waved me through.

Years lat­er I was telling a friend trained in secu­ri­ty about this sto­ry. “Would he real­ly have kept me from cross­ing the bor­der if I had answered the Oshkosh ques­tion wrong?” I asked.

She laughed. “He didn’t care what you answered. He cared how you answered. He’s trained to know when some­one is telling the truth or when they’re lying.”

Fic­tion writ­ers are also heav­i­ly vest­ed in the kind of truth that lies under­neath the sur­face answer.

When stu­dent writ­ers use real-life events as their inspi­ra­tion, they often get worked up over “what real­ly hap­pened.” But this isn’t the task of fiction. Instead, fiction is all about reshap­ing “what real­ly hap­pened” to reveal to the read­er some of the biggest truths of all: truths about life, truths about peo­ple.

Explain to your stu­dents that it’s okay to leave out some details, add oth­ers, change a few more, if it’s done with the goal of point­ing the read­er towards the emo­tion­al truth of the sto­ry. This isn’t cross­ing the bor­der from “telling the truth” over to “lying.” It’s mak­ing impor­tant writ­ing choic­es.

It’s dig­ging down to the truth found under­neath “Oshkosh.”

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