Writers Boon Blog


  • Do words describe or create reality?

    Bradley Fischl, Timothy Balding, Mary Steenson and Larry Yoakum III​


    Bradley Fischl is an accomplished public speaker, environmentalist, human and animal rights activist, retired Cub Master, former Marine, and the father of two-legged and four-legged children.

    Timothy Balding served as Chief Executive Officer of the World Association of Newspapers, the representative global group of media publishers and editors, established after World War II to defend the freedom and independence of the press worldwide. A Knight (First Class) in the Order of the White Rose of Finland – an honor accorded by Nobel Peace laureate Martti Ahtisaari, former Finnish President – he currently devotes himself to writing.

    Mary Steenson is a lifelong writer and onetime art gallery owner who has just independently published the story of two women artists titled "Art Alone Enduring." They were sisters and independent women whose long lives, spanning the 20th century, were lived for art.  She knew them well.

    Larry Yoakum III is a veteran of the United States Air Force. He writes mainly short stories and poetry but is currently working on several novellas as well. 

    Each month on Writers Boon Blog, writers take on questions about the world of books. This week Bradley Fischl, Timothy Balding, Mary Steenson and Larry Yoakum III​ share their thoughts on the power of words.

    Bradley Fischl

    To answer the question simply, both. History shows us that words have been used and are used to describe something that is tangent, literal, a real thing, while in the same vein words have been and are used to paint a picture of what can be, and quite often those imaginations, those creative thoughts put on paper, turn into reality.

    “Truth is stranger than fiction” only applies to realities that we have not yet created.

    Timothy Balding

    Well, words can be used for every imaginable purpose, including lying and falsifying reality.

    But, assuming that by reality we mean the 'real', an existent thing or state of affairs, words can only describe, not create it.

    What we can, indeed, create, is a new perspective, or the revelation of something not before expressed or even seen. But the fact of doing so doesn't create the reality itself, only new ways of describing or 'uncovering' it.

     If one wanted to be a little Jesuitical, and at the risk of ceding to the tortuous reasoning of many philosophers, one could nevertheless also argue as follows:

    There is a most terrible film in which a lot of ugly blue people run around on a distant planet saying stupid and humorless things to visiting humans. Could one not then argue that James Cameron and his scriptwriters actually did create a new reality, i.e. the reality of the movie itself, which does exist, unfortunately, and which one can still see and hear?

    Even if, in fact, this planet and these creatures do not 'in reality' actually exist (we might confidently presume)?

    Well, at that point, we can either turn the question over to Hegel, or stick to our guns and insist:

     'It is not reality which has been 'created', but merely the description of the idle fantasies of a film-maker'.

    Then you would probably have to read five volumes of Bishop Berkely, and dip into Sartre's 'Being and Nothingness', and you still wouldn't be closer to understanding anything.

    So personally, I prefer to stick to my original claim: Words only describe reality. The rest is literature. 

    Mary Steenson

    "Reality is merely an illusion." Albert Einstein's understanding of quantum physics has since been substantiated by physicists' experiments in laboratories like Fermilab near Chicago, where I live (where I think I live.) Realizing that particles' past behavior will change to comply with present expectations validates teachings of the Buddha and Sufi mystics like Rumi and Hafez.

    Reality is what we perceive it to be. Poets and fiction writers create in this fantastic infinity.

    Larry Yoakum III

     I believe words can both create and describe reality. The words an author writes can be descriptive enough to create an entire universe within the mind of a reader. Whether it is a fantasy world of dragons and wizards or the life and times of a child in poverty, the words will create this reality and let the reader hear, see, and even feel what the characters are going through. Descriptions of anger and happiness and fear will make a reader see through the eyes of the protagonist. The pain and agony and adversity the hero goes through to save the day make the reader feel as if he or she is carrying out the task.