Monday, January 10, 2011

A Born Liar

It was probably after class but before I had to be at whatever awful job I had at the time. I was sitting on a bench along the Thames reading a book. It was nice-ish weather and I'd walked across Hungerford Bridge after buying a bunch of violets wrapped in newspaper from a flower seller outside Embankment tube station.

A guy came up to me. He was cute though not my type. He smiled at me and started chatting me up. In the course of the chat up he asked me my name, what I was doing, where I was from. The usual.

But what came out of my mouth wasn't even remotely close to the truth. I swear a fever came upon me and made me say things that were patently untrue. I'm not talking about giving the guy the cold shoulder or lying about a previous engagement so I could politely move on - all absolutely legitimate ways of getting rid of unwanted attention - no, what I was telling him was a complete fabrication, and not for any other reason than, at that moment, I could.

I told him I was Canadian. I told him I was an drama student studying in a summer program at The Globe. I told him I was single, that I was leaving in two weeks and that I'd never been to London before. We talked for a good half hour. I don't remember what he told me, except, for some reason that he was a bike messenger. I was too busy concentrating on my made up life. When he asked for my number, I had no trouble giving him my number with two digits off. I waved him goodbye and kept reading my book until it was time to go.

Does this make me a bad person? Everything is pretty much the way I remember it (although, the violets wrapped in newspaper was an artistic detail, I did used to get violets from that flower seller, when she had them, but I don't think I did this time.) So I'm not lying to you now, but how can you be sure?

Everyone lies sometimes, and often a lot of the time. That's not what bothered and fascinated me about this event in my life (and it became an event as I tried to analyze myself and my motives). The interesting part is how it sprung out of me out of opportunity. Here was someone I didn't know and would probably never know (witness how many decades have passed) and he was asking me about myself. And I could lie and it wouldn't make a difference. It terrified me to think that I had this rogue thing in me that could enjoy the experiment of lying at will, without consequences, that I couldn't feel it was wrong. But it was also exciting, just that once, to safely tell lies.

You probably can see where I'm going with this. Writer's are sanctioned liars, it's what we do for a living, or in my case, do despite not making a living at it. But how do you tell lies honestly? That's what I'm struggling with now. Making things up, check, not a problem. But making my characters speak truthfully, even when I don't like what they're saying, when I don't like them? Much harder. There really is an inherent truth, as corny as it sounds, to every creative work - or there should be - and it's agonizing when you can't find it, or lose it half way through. I have to delve back into the first two sections of my wip and have a stern talking to with several of my characters. I have to threaten pink slips, disciplinary action and beat downs for ones that have slacked off and sound like cardboard cut outs. I have to revise, damn it.

Pimping ain't easy, that's for sure.

Two links to posts that relate to writing and lying:


  1. I'm a terrible liar! I have always worked more with nonfiction writing for this exact reason. I remember a class at Penn State that required me to write a piece of fiction. It was an embarrassing disaster. I just recently started to experiment with fiction. Time and the first Bucks County Writers Group will tell how I'm doing.


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