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Intersection Column | The Point of Fiction

by Joanna Davidson Politano


I have this memory of my grandfather, a warm and sunny man, taking pictures. He was an odd mix—an illusionist and a photographer. I always thought it was cool when he combined those talents. Before there was photo editing software, before Photoshop, my grandpa was tinting old black and white photographs, physically cutting and pasting images together, and making a magic trick of photography.


I was excited to find out in my research that early films were originally created the same way. My new novel, The Elusive Truth of Lily Temple, includes a true-life silent film artist who was an illusionist-turned-film producer. I thoroughly enjoyed writing this novel, except for one aspect. My heroine. As my fairytale-loving silent movie actress took shape, she resembled those early films—she was an illusionist.


“I hadn’t decided if I’d tell the whole truth or not, when the men arrived.” ~Lily Temple


The entire novel is Lily, the heroine, telling this rather fantastical tale to some officers of the law, explaining how an innocent man—her hero—landed in prison and needed to be released. I wasn’t even sure if her story was entirely true, or if she was playing with the edges of truth for the sake of a convincing story.


This is where I put on the brakes.


Most times a flawed character is a good thing, but I didn’t like this particular flaw. Partly because she resembled my childhood self, who was a natural storyteller. I really didn’t want to write about this flaw. Not in a heroine. Truth is far too important to me. So I began shoe-horning in more of God, more morality around truth and fiction, and drawing a clear line between them. Truth over here, fiction way over there!


But my heroine wasn’t having it. Actually, God wasn’t having it. He continually invited me back to the original story, not settling for being “shoehorned” into anything. So I removed my attempts at moralizing and just let the story unfold. I had my doubts still.


Then my story-telling heroine began nudging me.


“The truth is far too fragile and important to be tossed about that way, warped and dinged. So I wrapped [truth] up in stories to protect and clarify it. I spun fiction . . . and let the truth shine out for itself.”


Another memory I have of my photographer-magician grandfather is his “true stories.” He’d always say, “I have a true story.” And of course, it was never true. But you always listened, and were always glad. His “true stories” were funny and clever. Sometimes remarkably poignant. As a kid, I heard and absorbed truth that would have simply rolled off my back had it been simply stated.


Some of those stories I can still repeat today, thirty years later, and the truths in them have come back to hit me in the face when I need them. Yes, I remember those truths. More than I recall any sermon or Bible study on the topic. The fact is, fiction, as Neil Gamain says, is “the lie that tells the truth.”


I had a conversation with another creatively minded friend during the drafting stage. “When did adults lose sight of the value of reading fiction?” she asked me. “I wonder why it is that as children, many of us loved stories, instinctively sensing their value, but then trivialize them as a luxury in adulthood?”


Yes! That is the truth about reading books—the point of fiction. Because every story contains echoes of the larger story. The truest story. The one we try to express in our storytelling, whether or not we mean to. That story—the one between humans and God—is part of our natures, our every story, built directly into our creative DNA whether we realize it or not.


Justice. A longing for deep connection. Truest romantic love. Being understood. Belonging. Peace. Ultimate beauty. The goal of every story echoes with our inbuilt longing for God and connection with Him, like a homing device meant to draw us close. Those longings may have been tainted or fully derailed by the world, and we may look to meet them in the wrong places, but at their root, they all point back to our deep need for God.


And often, when these things are laid out in story form, it makes sense in a way it wouldn’t without the story wrapped around it. So they’re made-up stories, but as we work through them, peeling back each petal, we find truth—and more than that, we find Him. That is the point of fiction.


About the Author

Joanna Davidson Politano is the award-winning author of several historical novels. She loves tales that capture the colorful, exquisite details in ordinary lives and is eager to hear anyone’s story. She lives with her husband and their kids near Lake Michigan and you can find her at


About the Book

In 1903 England, Peter Driscoll, an underground investigator to the wealthy, has never met anyone like Lily Temple. The beautiful silent-film actress spins fairy tales and plays frivolous roles in front of the cine-camera, but beneath the costumes and stage makeup is a woman with a quick wit—and a murky past.


Did You Know?

The apostle Paul probably did NOT write Hebrews. The church’s stand on the authorship of Hebrews has changed over the centuries. Although the book is technically anonymous, early in the fifth century, the church officially assigned Hebrews to the list of Pauline epistles. Then during the Reformation, John Calvin and Martin Luther reopened the debate by challenging that assumption. Today, most scholars admit we simply don’t know who wrote Hebrews, but many also agree the evidence points to someone other than Paul.


So, why not Paul? Evidence from the letter itself heavily supports someone other than Paul. Consider these facts:


  • The style of writing – Scholars readily admit the grammar, phraseology, and elegant Greek are unlike any of Paul’s other letters. When I read Hebrews, even my ears hear the difference.

  • No authentication – Hebrews includes no author identification or signature. But in 2 Thessalonians 3:18, Paul wrote that he signed every letter in his own hand to prove it genuine.

  • No eyewitness claim – The author described himself as a “second-generation” Christian (Hebrews 2:3), which directly conflicts with Paul’s own testimony. Paul saw Jesus face-to-face (1 Corinthians 9:1) and received the gospel straight from Him (Galatians 1:11-12). 


We can surmise that the author of Hebrews was likely a highly educated, Jewish Christian raised outside of Palestine. He was a “second-generation” believer who came to faith in Christ through the testimony of eyewitnesses. This elegant orator and gifted teacher loved God’s people and longed for their spiritual maturity. We may not know his name, but God does.


-Kathy Howard, Deep Rooted


Why I LOVE My Local Christian Bookstore

“There is something magical about a bookstore. I love to peruse the categories, lift books from shelves, and examine the covers and backs. Handling books in a brick-and-mortar store brings sensory pleasure that online shopping can’t duplicate.”


-Sally Jo Pitts, Sweet Deceit


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