Monday, September 22, 2008

Lessons Before Lying: (Plus a Ghost Story)

There were enough blank stares and furrowed brows over my truth and lies post that I feel inclined to shed some light on the fine art of deception. Before you begin breaking this golden rule at home, there are a few things you should know.

But these few things you should know are gonna take me some time to learn you them, longer than you have right now, so allow me to break it down in chunks. Grab a pencil because the first two rules to effective lying are comin' at ya! (I'm an expert so take my word).

The first rule is this: Never ever evereverever lie simply for the sake of entertaining or inspiring your reader. You can lie for the sake of beauty because truth is always beautiful, but never lie for the sake of uplifting because truth is not always uplifting.

The second rule is this: Your reader must know you are lying. You can't pull a Paul H. Dunn and create stories out of thin air. What you say must be true. But the way you say it can be false. As long as your readers know you are deceiving them, you're only bending, not breaking any commandments.

Everything I know about truth and lying I learned from one of my favorite books by Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried. A brilliant work set in the Vietnam War. O'Brien says lying is not a game, it's a form. A way of making a reader feel what you felt. Truth isn't just in details, it's in emotions too.

O'Brien says if you don't feel something it's a lie.

He also says there are two kinds of truth, happening truth and story truth.

Mull that over for a minute.


Here's an example of happening truth. When I was 14 my dad overdosed. It was a tragic death to a tragic life. It was sad. It's was hard. I felt guilty about it for years.

But that doesn't make you feel what I felt so I collapse time, add a few details and tell you the story truth, or the truth as it seemed to me.

The great part about story truth is it allows you to change things you wish you could change. It allows you to bring people back to life, talk to the dead, say things you wish you had said and do things you wish you had done.

If you're up for it, and want an example of this, go to my sister site Crash Test Dummies are People Too for the story truth about my dad's overdose.

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