The older I get, the more I come to understand how subjective "truth" actually is. We recall moments from childhood with an exactness that cannot be questioned. Until someone else who was there corrects you on key points. Key points which were absolutely unquestionable in your own mind.
By that time, of course, it's almost impossible to know which of you has remembered it correctly, or at least the closest to correctly. By that time it really doesn't matter, either. You each have your truth.
I don't tend to get people asking me about my own stories, and the veracity of events within them. In a way that's kind of weird since nearly all of my stories are set within the real world, for the most part. I have a single paranormal story, and the rest are contemporary erotic romance. I know of people writing bear shifters and aliens who get asked if their stories really happened!
My answer, were I asked, would probably be some kind of vague half-and-half statement about stories being based on true events, or inspired by them. For the most part that's exactly how it happens for me, and I'm certain for a lot of other writers, too.
As I alluded to in my first paragraph, we're all writing fiction every moment of our lives. Our brains are processing "truth" through layers of memory and filters of emotion. Not just the emotion of the moment, but through the memories dredged up by any one event, we could be processing the "right now" through the emotions of "last time this happened" or even "the first time this happened". Plus we all have a tendency to remember events in the way which suits our own purposes. Either we make ourselves a victim or a victor, but we try like hell to avoid being the asshole of the story.
So if our everyday lives are essentially fiction, then it stands to reason even the truest of true stories will still be filtered and colored.
I've received a fairly scathing review recently for one of my characters acting in a way the reader thought was unrealistic. (Their review was far more emotive than I'm making out!) I actually agree with that reviewer to a certain degree. My character was behaving in a manner which was perhaps over the top, or perhaps inconsistently. My counter, were I to be silly enough to contact the reviewer, would simply be that I'm writing fiction. I strongly doubt people read erotic romance for its gritty reality and the way it shows relationships as being a long stream of waiting for each other to finish using the toilet. And waiting another ten minutes when your partner finishes in there.
Following from Lisabet's point on Monday, I feel the best service "truth" can do in our stories is to inform our characters. When I visited my friend and co-author, Katie Salidas, in Las Vegas last September, we were chatting about this very thing. Her example was one I thought summed up the whole concept very well.
Katie writes vampires. Not only vampires, but the great majority of her work is in various vampire genres. Now obviously, she doesn't know what it's like to crave blood. But as a smoker who's tried to quit, she knows only too well the sensation of a bone-deep craving that's just not good for ya. She channeled that feeling most directly into her character Alyssa, the star of the Immortalis series, and her teething (heh) troubles when she was turned. But it's there across the board. An authenticity to the blood-lust. (She also brings that same seed of craving, but with a different overall tone, to her werewolves).
For me, the most obvious and direct channeling I do is in the way my heroes revere the full bodies of their curvy heroines. His description of her body, and the way it turns him on, is always drawn directly from my own experiences. This is a constant in my stories, because it's a constant in my life. It's my smoking. It's my truth.