On the Subject of Lying

Okay, so I want to start this blog with a post about a very basic thing that I think you should all know: writers lie.

There. I said it. That’s a very bold statement I was first told when I was attending a course at Brønderslev Writer’s College and it was made by author Bjørn Themsen. He said something that sounded much like this (except it was in Danish, of course):

 “The cool thing about being a writer is that you’re allowed to lie!”

To begin with, the statement that you more or less have to lie threw me off. I mean, I considered myself quite the honest person. So how was I supposed to start lying? But as soon as he explained the statement, I began to understand his meaning and the reasons behind it. He continued,

“You have to be loyal to the life, opinions, and peculiarities of your characters. So keep lying!”

I suspect you’re all catching on to it now, the meaning behind his words. What Bjørn was saying is that as a writer, you are required to lie – you have to lie because what you’re writing is not a biography (although biographies are definitely filled with their parts of lies as well, but let’s forget that for now). It’s fiction. And when all comes down to it, fiction is based upon lies. The stories that we read or watch, they’re not really happening. I’m sorry to break it to you, but there isn’t a young man running around London with a scar on his face whose name is Harry Potter and who defeated the evil wizard Voldemort (unless, of course, J. K. Rowling is in fact a witch who decided to tell the greatest tale of the top-secret magic society. I won’t rule it out); it’s a lie. But it’s a lie that we all know isn’t true and so, we revel in it. We enjoy it. And we don’t feel offended when we realize that it’s not true. So that’s why you can be quite an honest person else wise, yet when you sit down in front of your computer or with a piece of paper, you better start lying (if you’re writing fiction, mind you – it wouldn’t be such a good idea to lie in your self-assessment tax return).

However, that being said, I think something else should be taken into consideration as well. Because the stories might all be lies, but the emotions and the messages are real. I’ll go out on a limb here and claim that there isn’t a story in the world that aren’t filled with real emotions, and the reason we as readers or audience keep yearning for more stories are because they are filled with so many feelings that resonate with us. We recognize the feeling of loss when the main character loses his or her family. We know how angry your siblings can sometimes make you. It’s not alien to us when couples argue over the little things. We’ve seen it or we’ve felt it, and most likely both. We can relate. And when we can relate, that’s when we feel a certain attachment to the characters at hand. A story that fails to act upon real emotions wouldn’t have a lot of substance to it, if any at all.

Then there are the messages; the things that most teachers of literature are getting on your back for analyzing the crap out of. But even if you don’t feel like diving into the depth of the meaning behind red roses or a gleam of sunlight through the windows, I’m betting you will always be able to find one or more things that the book you just read or the movie you just watched can teach you. Sometimes, what writers want to tell you may be very explicit. Maybe the book is about this girl who got dumped, but learned that there are still bright sides of life. Or maybe the book is about a man coming of age and learning how to deal with the life of an adult, but that very simple fact may be hidden beneath tons of dragons and knights. Fact is, no matter how many layers that’s put upon the message, it’s still there and you can learn from it.

I guess when all comes down to it, I’m going to have to oppose Bjørn’s statement a little. Writers do lie. But the cool thing about being a writer is that you can use those lies to tell truths about life. Because in the end, the reason why we love stories is that at some point, each and every one of them is about life, and life is a subject that is forever relevant.

So keep lying, fellow writers – but use those lies well.