This article was originally written in 2014. I repeated it two years ago when the name Parkland joined Newtown, Las Vegas, and Columbine in fame.
Now we are faced with a different sort of epidemic, but conspiracy theories still abound. The circumstances are different, the players are different, but the conspiracies are bound by the same logistical realities that theorists who think of themselves as “truthers” take pains to ignore.
So, think of this as the Corona virus edition of Writers vs Truthers. Whether it’s a mass shooting, a military operation, or the origin story and handling of a new virus, I offer a take on what trutherism looks like to someone who makes stuff up for a living.
I had the truly bizarre experience of conversing with a Sandy Hook truther or two this past weekend. After listening to the litany of “reasons” that they have for suspecting a hoax or conspiracy of some sort (what sort varies), and hearing their questions, and reading some of their source material, a pattern began to emerge.
They seemed to have little awareness of a number of things that, as a writer, I must take into account in every story I write and every plot I conceive.
These include such things as:
- The passage of time. Some of the Sandy Hook truther suspicions centered around the lack of news footage showing events that took place during and immediately after the shootings. There is no visual record of the escape of the children at the school (factually untrue), therefore that escape never happened and/or those children never existed. (This charge is factually untrue.)
- That the people in the scene exist beyond the camera eye. There is a sense that the people depicted in the story freeze in place or disappear from reality when the camera is not trained on them. They exist only to people the places where they can be seen. Otherwise they are in a sort of stasis and do not interact with others.
- That people are connected. The interconnectedness of everyday lives goes far beyond where the people on camera physically touch. To the truther, those individuals who were direct actors in the events of the day are the only ones worthy of consideration. And of course, whatever Machiavellian Puppet Master is pulling their strings and writing their lines of dialogue. They are disconnected from family, friends, acquaintances, coworkers, people with whom they share vocations, avocations or hobbies. In the mind of the truther, their outside connections do not exist. They are creatures of the plot.
- That everyone leaves some sort of “paper trail”—or a trail of electrons, at least. Everyone has a back-story that includes mortgages, jobs, cars, subscriptions to magazines, Facebook pages. They must eat, clothe themselves and purchase other necessities. They have lives that go back in time. If they were part of a conspiracy, that paper trail would also exist, logically, between the individuals and the Master of the conspiracy.
In the mind of the conspiracy theorist, it is as if every citizen of Newtown who was directly connected to the school shooting in some way, came into being when they walked “on stage” and froze or disappeared when they walked off again. Between them and those whose lives were touched indirectly, there was an impermeable wall. The rest of Newtown existed in a stasis field.
I found this all strangely familiar. It is the same set of issues that I’ve found myself going over with writers I’ve mentored. An odd coincidence?
Not really. Both the writer and the truther are attempting to lay out a narrative that seems convincing to their audience and is internally consistent.
Therein lies the similarity and the problem: Some plot lines will only remain internally consistent if time, the continued existence of the characters, their interconnectedness, and back story are ignored.
There, the similarity ends. I have some new insights into what motivates truthers that may be beyond the purview of this blog. But with writers, I think inexperience and tunnel vision (okay, and possibly laziness) may be to blame for stories that fail to ring true or which raise too many unanswerable questions.
These problems are generally solvable for writers. For truthers, not so much.
In the next several articles, I’d like to look at these four points in real life and in writing life in the hope that they’ll make sense to writers and readers alike.
Next time: More Truthers vs Writers