Good writers, good liars


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Thread: Good writers, good liars

  1. #1

    Good writers, good liars

    Thought about this today. Interested to hear your thoughts, if any!

    It occurred to me today that a good writer of fiction is somebody for whom the concept of lying probably comes quite naturally. In other words, all writers are liars.

    I'm not necessarily talking about the malicious sense of lying, the use of trust to manipulate - though it may involve that for some. Rather I am talking about the ability to make stuff up pretty much on demand, and in a very convincing and elaborate manner.

    For example: my wife and I periodically play dumb jokes on each other via text when one of us is working late that involve pretending ridiculous things happened at home. Just silly little things, nothing terribly mean. But I have noticed I can usually make her fall for mine easily whereas she struggles to do the same, and it usually comes down to approach. Where she might simply tell me "the cat got into the fridge and ate all the cheese" or whatever, I would come up with a whole "I...have something to tell you' spiel that involves more of a narrative as to what exactly (didn't) happen with the cat.

    This made me realize that the same kind of skills I am using in that context are actually very much the same as the skills I use in stories. Basically, that lying is an imaginative exercise, where the rules as to what works and what doesn't come down to taking a general idea and pursuing it as though it was real, while constantly incorporating aspects that are real and true wherever possible. My cat-got-in-fridge stories would usually incorporate things like actual stuff that was in the fridge, would usually incorporate some 'side event' (or sub plot) that didn't actually pertain to the central idea. When telling these 'lies' I always take into account voice, too. Ensuring the delivery of this 'lie' is always as close as possible to how I would deliver the same thing if it were true. These are things I believe to be crucial in story-writing. Things that I didn't really learn through lying itself - I don't lie THAT often, I promise! - but that actually came naturally...that came about from writing stories.

    So, what do you think? Are you a good liar? If so, do you find it makes writing easier? If not, how do you overcome this instinct to not deviate from the path of empirical truth to construct stories that are fiction? Any general thoughts?

  2. #2
    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
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    I'd have to say there are two types of lying: written and spoken. It's a whole lot easier to lie on paper than it is to someone's face. You can write a letter ("Dear Bank Manager, the reason my overdraft is so high this month is..." etc) but sit down in front of Mr. Stern the Bank Manager and try to tell him the same lie, and you may have difficulty. When you have to face someone, they can see your emotions, the sweat on your palms, the nervous darting of your eyes, your whole body language, it becomes a lot harder, I think, to convince someone that what you're saying is the truth if in fact it is not. In some cases, even if it is.

    I personally find it easier to do anything - lie, excuse, confess my undying love, toast the groom, report an incident - writing than I do speaking. I am a shy person, have a low, not at all authoritative voice, and mask my body language with about as much dexterity as a brick exercises when doing a barrel roll through the air, so it's easier for me to write. Always. An example that comes to mind is when I was leaving my job of nearly thirty years to look after my disabled sister fulltime, they of course threw me an impromptu last lunch in the boardroom, and naturally demanded a speech. I stumbled and stuttered and grinned my way through it, totally ill-at-ease with people I had known, some of them, for over a decade. Later, I wrote a farewell email in which I was far better able to articulate my thoughts, inject some humour, and generally rescue my awful oral speech.

    So yes, we can be good liars as writers - as you point out correctly Ralph, we have to be, otherwise everything we write would be fact not fiction - but I don't think it necessarily follows that we are good liars full stop. I know I am not: if someone asks me something and I'm going to lie, I'll usually trip myself up and get caught. Ask me to write about it though, I'd probably get away with it. Think about how your little tricks on your wife would work were you to speak to her face-to-face, or even on the phone but not by text...
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Trollheart View Post
    So yes, we can be good liars as writers - as you point out correctly Ralph, we have to be, otherwise everything we write would be fact not fiction - but I don't think it necessarily follows that we are good liars full stop. I know I am not: if someone asks me something and I'm going to lie, I'll usually trip myself up and get caught. Ask me to write about it though, I'd probably get away with it. Think about how your little tricks on your wife would work were you to speak to her face-to-face, or even on the phone but not by text...
    Thanks, Rojack79!

    Yes it's definitely only possible because it is written in text. I am horrible at lying in person. Hence, I think it parallels with writing legitimate stories.

  4. #4
    I agree. Lying about what happens around us can be of use to us to make up material for great stories. I prefer what happens to others tales that are later written as a fictional story (parts of a story that you cut and later paste together if that is a good explanation). Because you can if you lie help order the events, and create a story with a climax, turning points, and some other events. It's a good skill to have. Neil Gaiman wrote I think in dream country about shadow truths are conveyed as truths and writers are liars (quoted from somewhere). Rewriting stories and events around us can help a writer. To change the perspective or help people imagine or reorder the events in a sequence that is believable. I do wonder is writers are reporters though. I've heard this phrase before, so good topic. Lying can help people with writers block even. It's inspirational advice. Also writers steal, eavesdrop, and read anything to get their inspiration to work and hopefully turn to perspiration. So I dont know if the bigger the lie the better but hopefully it is believable to the reader. It can help us face the blank page. Making up lies from the past can be an easy pastime even. Those emotional memories that ring as story material to us.
    Last edited by Theglasshouse; September 1st, 2019 at 04:59 AM.
    I would follow as in believe in the words of good moral leaders. Rather than the beliefs of oneself.
    The most difficult thing for a writer to comprehend is to experience silence, so speak up. (quoted from a member)

  5. #5
    I pretty much can't lie face-to-face. Worst beating I received as a child were over lying, so I'm entirely too terrified to pull it off as an adult. I'm also terrified of public speaking and otherwise being put on the spot, so that makes lying even worse. I'm absolutely the shittiest liar in conversation.

    Writing is another matter.

    But even then, I've still got issues with that religious upbringing and its emphatic anti-lying stance.
    "Ammonia will disinfect sin."
    --adrianhayter

    "Art is life, just add bull****."
    --Chris Miller

  6. #6
    Hm,that's... a really interesting thought.

    Maybe it comes down to how people/authors cope with the meaning of life in general? In stories, the character exists for a reason: the cop who catches the killer, the lonely guy who we know will meet his lover eventually, or who doesn't and learns a valuable life lesson. Life itself isn't as certain, so you give the reader some control through the lie: like with you and your wife. Maybe you fear parting and not seeing each other again through how life throws accidents in the way to tear people apart, and the jokes and lies are your way to control the threat of not seeing each other again by talking through it.

    Stories enforce that we're not just here by fluke, that there's reason behind the chaos, because the alternative is really just depressing. That life is chance, with kids nothing but shrapnel left over from gunplay between parents, who eventually only turn back to atoms to recycle and start again. It's a good lie, and I think that's the difference. It allows readers to dream, to not be alone, to think life's better or worse, but mostly that there's a reason to life, or that there's a chance it can be controlled... tamed in a story, or even that it shows life is untameable like the readers and it gives readers a sense of unity, even if it's with chaos.

    But yeah, not a bad lie. A dreamer's lie, because sometiimes it's our only defence against life, or maybe I'm just more of a romantic at heart than I thought.
    Last edited by Aquilo; September 1st, 2019 at 08:44 AM.
    "You don't wanna ride the bus like this,"

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  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Aquilo View Post
    Hm,that's... a really interesting thought.

    Maybe it comes down to how people/authors cope with the meaning of life in general? In stories, the character exists for a reason: the cop who catches the killer, the lonely guy who we know will meet his lover eventually, or who doesn't and learns a valuable life lesson. Life itself isn't as certain, so you give the reader some control through the lie: like with you and your wife. Maybe you fear parting and not seeing each other again through how life throws accidents in the way to tear people apart, and the jokes and lies are your way to control the threat of not seeing each other again by talking through it.

    Stories enforce that we're not just here by fluke, that there's reason behind the chaos, because the alternative is really just depressing. That life is chance, with kids nothing but shrapnel left over from gunplay between parents, who eventually only turn back to atoms to recycle and start again. It's a good lie, and I think that's the difference. It allows readers to dream, to not be alone, to think life's better or worse, but mostly that there's a reason to life, or that there's a chance it can be controlled... tamed in a story, or even that it shows life is untameable like the readers and it gives readers a sense of unity, even if it's with chaos.

    But yeah, not a bad lie. A dreamer's lie, because sometiimes it's our only defence against life, or maybe I'm just more of a romantic at heart than I thought.
    A guy I know writes non-fiction. Specifically, he is a freelance journalist and blogger. He's fairly successful, with work published by Vice and places like that. He has a good reputation, too. We're good friends but I always feel a slight...disdain might be too strong a word, but let's just say he doesn't have a whole lot of interest in or respect for most fiction writing. He is pretty candid with his belief that real-world issues are interesting enough to provide all the dramatic intrigue needed. The only fiction he likes is fiction that is either based in real events or speaks to them in some clear sense.

    I actually have a lot of time for that point of view, because in many respects it's true that journalism and non-fic by its very definition relates more closely to the real world. A lot of really important issues are really difficult to write about in fiction well. Not impossible by any stretch, but difficult. I have yet to read a really good story about climate change, for instance. I'm not saying there aren't any out there or one isn't in the making, but I suspect I would struggle to do it myself, partly because I do Have Views on the subject and it would probably come across ranty. Meanwhile, he is writing fairly brilliant material on the Amazon using nothing more than facts and his talent in expressing them. Can't argue with that.

    So I bullshit 'for a living' and most of my stories are pure imagination. My solace in doing so is built around a belief that bullshit actually comes in different forms...and different grades. Some bullshit - like pretending your cat found his way into your refrigerator - is just straight bullshit. It serves no real purpose other than idle pastime. A lot of novels are basically not much better. The trashy stuff and whatnot.

    But then there's the high-grade bullshit. The bullshit that farmers use to fertilize their fields and grow things. It's still bullshit, its still mostly or entirely invented from thin air and requires a lot of suspension of belief, but it's bullshit that is nevertheless possessing of grains of truth about something. It's bullshit that effectively uses lies as a vehicle for truth and that is one thing I think is really special about fiction writing.

    Because while non-fiction writing is powered by its truth, it's also somewhat limited by it. Fiction is speculative and speculation done well is powerful. All the non-fiction political writing in the world couldn't do what The Bullshitting Liar George Orwell managed to do in one novel with Nineteen Eighty-Four. So I say, never underestimate the power of some thoughtful lying.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    I actually have a lot of time for that point of view, because in many respects it's true that journalism and non-fic by its very definition relates more closely to the real world.
    Oh yes, and it's why I can't and won't read non-fic. I avoid with a real hate anything that covers rape cases, child abuse, human tragedy, or even heartache over an old man losing his wife... it tears me up too much. But I will write about them in my novels, mostly because I know I can control realism. There's safety (justice?) in fictional v real people etc. I can go C&B torture on the rapist, I can get a psychopath to cull a paedophile and show just how far down on fodder chain he/she really is.... Okay, maybe I'm just more of a control freak than I thought I was.

    But I think non-fic artists play with lies too. There was a famous image, one that never goes away: where a starving toddler is seen crouching, all skin and bone, a vulture in the background. The photographer said he felt torn that he took the image first and didn't do anything to help the kid, but he needed to get the image across and show starvation on the wider scalle. The lie was there, though: help was right in front of that kid. Yes the image made millions more painfully aware on current affairs, but the photographer was there in that moment to help that kid, yet chose to... take the picture instead. If we're talking realism, most would have done for something that kid, and the photographer fought with himself over that.
    Last edited by Aquilo; September 1st, 2019 at 11:33 AM.
    "You don't wanna ride the bus like this,"

    Mike Posner.



  9. #9
    Whatever I say or write must be consistent with the whole work. Within the limited boundaries of a fiction story that is relatively easy, but the book of life is so vast that there it is very difficult, especially since I am not its only author. Hence I never intentionally lie in reality because that would potentially introduce flaws.

    The proof of this occurs in stories that have been extended and built on so much that it is no longer possible to maintain consistency and readers / viewers start noticing inconsistencies. The startling change in the physique of Klingons across the different series of Star Trek was a classic example. When this was mentioned to Worf in one episode he simply said "That's something that we Klingons don't talk about."

    On another thread in the past I asked just how omniscient the omniscient narrator is expected to be. Is this entity expected to know everything that will happen in the future as well as the past and present? If the narrative states that "they were never to meet again" then can they in a sequel? Can the author just claim that the previous omniscient narrator was replaced because of its shortcomings? Would it be more accurate to write that "they would never meet again", this statement implicitly being conditional on what happens in the sequel? The fact that I even consider such issues indicates just how honest even my fiction is aimed to be.

    The probability of being caught in a lie increases with the size of one's universe. There are no lies in good fiction, just inconsistencies with reality at its boundaries. If there is no such boundary then any such inconsistency implies that someone has lied.
    'Sharing an experience creates a reality.' Create a new reality today.
    'There has to be some give and take.' If I can take my time I'm willing to give it.
    'The most difficult criticism that a writer has to comprehend is silence.' So speak up.

  10. #10
    Offline: Depressed Trollheart's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by luckyscars View Post
    Thanks, Rojack79!

    Yes it's definitely only possible because it is written in text. I am horrible at lying in person. Hence, I think it parallels with writing legitimate stories.
    Um, as Mr. Hutchinson said in "Fawlty Towers" to Polly when asked sarcastically, "You're not the Duke of Windsor, are you?" No, no, you got the wrong man there! They call me Trollheart. I believe Rojack is another person entirely. Oh! Unless he's hijacked my body, Anne Rice-style! Now you have me worried! Where's that mirror?
    Come away, human child to the waters and the wild
    With a faery hand in hand.
    For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand. - WB Yeats "The Stolen Child"

    I drink to forget, but I never forget to drink.

    "If the real Jesus Christ were to stand up today
    He'd be gunned down cold by the CIA" - The The, "Armageddon Days Are Here (Again)" - Mind Bomb, 1989


    The most destructive force on the planet is not nukes or global warming...it is the human ego. - Ralph Rotten

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