The truth may set you free, but lies are a fiction writer’s bread and butter
April 2, 2012
You know, it occurs to me that fiction writers are in the business of telling lies. We do our very best to make sure that you, our readers, believe that some wild story we’ve made up actually did occur. And, if we’re successful, you buy into it hook, line, and sinker. But that makes me wonder about other things that we of the writing persuasion put out there. Like a blog.
On this blog I’ll probably tell many tales. Some about me, some about others. And I give you my word that they are the absolute truth, as best I can convey. But how do you know that for sure? How can you trust me? I am, after all, a self-confessed professional liar. Hmm. It’s a puzzler. Let’s consider this for a moment.
Well, for one thing, how would I stand to prosper from lying? We probably don’t know each other, so I’d have little to gain by trying to impress you. Besides, any obvious factual errors or mistruths that I write will no doubt be pounced upon with unbridled glee by those who make it their mission to pick holes in others’ postings (come on, you know you’re out there). Who needs to set themselves up for that?
Besides, for twenty years I wrote college textbooks which were required reading in my courses. I paid for that hubris by setting myself up as a sitting duck for every typo and factual error my students could unearth. Oh sure, I would smile back and thank them for “helping me edit my book”, but they knew they’d caught me. And I knew they got a kick out of it. Some students are like that. So I let them have their moment. But I also learned the hard way that I couldn’t snow them with hyperbole, exaggerations, omissions or any other such long words. I had to write the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Plain and simple. When I did, classes went a lot smoother, for me anyway. And the flaw-seekers actually started to read my books with increased vigour and purpose. A win-win situation from my point of view. So, telling the truth, being careful to state only verifiable facts, became a necessity, a beneficial habit.
Trouble is, that habit has now become something of a liability for me as I transition from textbook author to writer of fiction. I am, after all, now expected to spin fantastic tales filled with untruths and exaggeration and to get away with it, to make it sound real. How do I now write convincing lies when I have spent the last two decades writing nothing but the boring truth?
This problem takes me back to my youth when lying, exaggerating, and truth-bending were almost expected of us. Ah, those were good times. It all came so easily back then. Lies just seemed to roll off the tongue. They got you out of trouble. They made you look badder, braver, bolder in the eyes of the girls. They duped unsuspecting teachers into believing that your little sister really did eat your homework. Exaggeration and mistruths were the tools in a young boy’s toolbelt.
But those days soon passed and deception actually started getting you into trouble. Oh, not with your mother. She always knew the truth. Somehow. Maybe it was that eyes-in-the-back-of-her-head thing, I don’t know. She just knew. You got used to it. And it wasn’t all that stuff you were taught in Sunday School about God always watching over you. Nor was it that Christmas song that warned that “He sees you when you’re sleeping”. God and Santa, after all, never yelled at you when they caught you trying to sneak out at night, or with a naughty magazine tucked under your mattress. And it definitely wasn’t a problem with your buddies who couldn’t care less ’cause they were busy spinning twisted tales of their own.
No, lying first starts to get you into trouble with your girl. I gotta tell you, when it suddenly dawns on a guy that the truth-seeking missile guided by lie-dar is a weapon possessed by all women, not just his mother, it is truly a life-changing moment. The walls of his personal fortress come crashing down. It gets hard to breathe. Gasp! This means that half the population can see through your made-up stories. This means that those girls were on to your fake bravado and now know you for the doofus loser you really are. They just let on that they believed you for some mysterious agenda known only to themselves. How humiliating. It shakes the foundation of a guy’s whole belief system.
If you were smart you quickly repented your old ways and started working on the truth. You had to work on it, of course, because you were out of practice. But over time you found that the truth had its up side. For one thing, it was a lot easier to pull off. You no longer had to concoct a believable story (although that was probably good practice for a writing career). Nor did you and your friends have to work together ahead of time to get your stories straight. And it was lot easier to remember the facts than it was that convoluted malarky you dreamed up the night before, but which was quickly unravelling into a mess on the floor even as it spilled out of your mouth under the piercing gaze of your mother or girlfriend.
No, it was one thing to lie about scoring the game-winning goal, but being able to brag that it was the truth, that others had witnessed it, well, that was just too cool. The truth started to get you places. People started saying things like “He’s such a nice boy. And honest, too.” Well, maybe no one besides Aunt Bea on The Andy Griffith Show ever said that, but you know what I mean. They started to like you more. At least it felt that way. Maybe because you no longer carried around an anchor of guilt weighed down even more by the fear of discovery. Or maybe it was because they could trust you. For some reason, people seem to like that.
And so that brings me back to my blog. How can you be sure that my so-called factual accounts posted here are true? How can you trust me, a stranger? I am, after all, in the business of telling lies, or “stories” as we writers like to call them. Therefore it might be difficult for you to tell if I’m trying to pull a James Frey or Farley Mowatt on you … in other words, not letting the truth get in the way of a good story.
Well, you’ll just have to take my word for it. I promise that, other than teasers from my upcoming novel, or other clearly identified works of fiction that I may post in the Writings section of this blog, all the rest will be the truth told as faithfully as possible. Ok?
Now, don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I’m always going to tell a bland, featureless version of the truth. Any author knows that it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it. After reading my biography Brad’s Background in the About section, my wife’s response was “Boy, you sure sound like an interesting guy … good thing I married you!” You see, it’s all in how you sell it. So, while I’ll always write the truth, I won’t just write it as “I ate the apple”, but instead something more like “I raised the polished rose-red fruit to my mouth, hesitated a moment, then eagerly bit hard into it with a country-fresh snap.” I am, after all, a writer.