I was attending a talk on writing last week when the writer who was giving the talk said something like: “Writers lie. We lie. We tell lies. When we write about something it is our version that we tell, as we see it. We each tell the story as we believe it to be. While there may be only one truth, there are numerous different ways of saying it.”
That got me thinking. Isn’t our fascination with the written word what makes us readers fall in love with the story? The way the writer writes, the way some words sound. What is fiction after all?
One of the definitions of fiction in Reader’s Digest Universal dictionary is: a feigning – a lie- a literary work whose content is produced by the imagination and is not necessarily based on fact.
Aristotle wrote that Homer “first taught the rest of us the art of framing lies in the right way.”
People told stories since the beginning of time. Didn’t Scheherazade’s tyrant husband in One Thousand and One Nights anxiously wait for her story? In fact Scheherazade avoided her fate because she knew how to keep her intolerable husband in suspense- the only literary tool that had any effect upon him.
“Well I have to find a way of saying the truth without saying it; that is exactly what is literature, after all: clever lies which secretly say the truth.” Simone de Beauvoir
It’s the specific details in which the writers frame their lies that distinguishes them from each other. The way they each tell their stories is what gives them their unique voice, their style. That’s why we like some writers more than others, and some we don’t like at all.
Lajos Egri writes: “If Balzac, De Maupassant, O. Henry, hadn’t learned to write, they might have become inveterate liars, instead of great writers.”
What makes us writers write to begin with?
Words? Our love of words and how they sound? How they can associate us with our senses, our feelings? How they provoke our memories or experiences?
Or we feel we have something to say and we think it to be so important that we want to share it with the world. Or maybe we even want to make a statement- leave our mark- make our point heard. And why not one day also be remembered for our stories and writings.
Personally I feel I am a richer person when I write. I love it when people talk to me about my writings or my book even if it is in the negative. It means that I have an audience, I have readers and that makes me feel confident and kind of important.
On the importance of being important, Lajos Egri writes:
During the classic time of Greece a terrible thing happened in one of the temples. One night the statue of Zeus was mysteriously smashed and desecrated.
A tremendous uproar arose among the inhabitants. They feared the vengeance of the gods.
The town criers walked the city streets commanding the criminal to appear without delay before the Elders to receive his just punishment.
The perpetrator naturally had no desire to give himself up. In fact, a week later another statue of a god was destroyed.
Now the people suspected that at madman was loose. Guards were posted and at last their vigilance was rewarded; the culprit was caught.
He was asked,
“Do you know what fate awaits you?”
“Yes,” he answered, almost cheerfully. “Death.”
“Aren’t you afraid to die?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Then why did you commit a crime which you knew was punishable by death?”
The man swallowed hard and then answered.
“I am a nobody. All my life I’ve been a nobody. I’ve never done anything to distinguish myself and I knew I never would. I wanted to do something to make people notice me… and remember me.”
After a moment’s silence he added, “Only those people die who are forgotten. I feel death is a small price to pay for immortality!”
What makes us writers write then?