Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Liar Liar Pants on Fire

My son is going through a lying phase.  Relentlessly.  As he breathes.  I'm fairly sure that if I creep up next to him while he sleeps, he's lying between snores.  (It's funny.  I just read a friend's blog on the violent honesty of her little one, and I am missing those days like crazy right now.  The days where my son would point at women's bellies and say baby when clearly nothing was percolating inside.)

And then I think about being a writer, and that we are paid to lie.  Encouraged to lie.  And I'm trying to remember when I was little if I did the same thing.  Is he a creative genius trying out so many different stories in his head that sometimes they blur the lines between fiction and reality and it's impossible to give a straightforward answer?  Or is he an evil mastermind planning to take over our house and rule with an iron fist?  Nah, most likely he's ten and a kid and all the wonderful and bad things that go with that age.

It did, however, make me smile because as fiction writers we are not liars.  We are embellishers.  We are exaggerators.  We take the truth and twist it like a pretzel, shake some salt on top, and sell it as fiction. I've blogged before about borrowing other people's lives.  But in any reliable fiction class we are told to thumb our nose at reality.  Connect with the reader, but take reality and push it two degrees to the right where it is recognizable but not the same. Subtly blow your reader's mind.  I think that's why I like Neil Gaiman so much.  (Who doesn't?)  Take Coraline, for instance.  All children want to escape to an other reality where parents are better, but then Gaiman does the button eye thing and Coraline's world goes wrong.  It is terrifying.  But man, is it great.

Do we, in our stories, lie about reality?  Do we take a man and woman who would normally be sitting in LL Bean monogrammed robes drinking coffee and talking about the weather every morning and instead make one of them OCD while the other is clearly having sexual relations with the apartment super who smells like seafood and visits all the ladies in the building?  Of course we do.  Because no one reads stories, or books, or comics, to get a big old dose of reality.  We read to step inside of other people's brains.

I tell my students this constantly, and I hope that some of them believe me.  Read The Crucible because if you do, you'll know what it's like to be called a witch.  Jump into The Great Gatsby and you are magically an overly-moneyed twit running the show.  (I will at some point blog about how Daisy is one of the greatest villains in literary history.)  At any rate I don't want to read a book about me, because I live with fabulous  me every day.  I want someone to lie to me and tell me that things always end in fairy tales.  Or nightmares if that's your cup of tea.  But please, if you are a good writer, lie like a rug to me.  I prefer it that way.

The beautiful thing about writing is that our own personal truths are often lies to someone else.  They're wrapped up too neatly, even when mired in despair and destruction.  I want to be entertained, enlightened, but never bored.  Do not tell me the truth, because the truth is often something I am already quite aware of.  Tell me your truth and it's a shiny new toy to me, and while I'm being entertained secretly I'm learning something.  A new bit of my brain is crawling over the new idea and trying to figure it out.

Tell me the truth to my face, but if you're a writer, please lie to me.  I'll never hold it against you.  

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