It seems most appropriate to ruminate on truth and lies today, the next day after the April Fools’ Day. All fiction is lies, right? But what makes great fiction? Ah, that would be convincing lies, lies that might’ve been true, lies that every reader believes in while he is reading my book. Such lies tell intimate facts about me, the writer, and simultaneously delve deep into the reader’s psyche. Even if the plot is pure fantasy – dragons or aliens or Regency dukes – the underlying emotions must be truthful enough so the reader could identify and empathize with my heroes.
Am I intrepid enough to write such fiction? Do I have the audacity to bare my soul and let it bleed on the page, so the reader could believe my fabrications? Because make no mistake, such honesty on the writer’s part requires lots of spunk. Sometimes, when too much of me leaks into my characters, I flinch. I want to censor my writing. No need to be too honest in my stories, I tell myself, to admit to my shameful shortcomings or unconventional worldviews. Nobody needs to know THAT about me, right? Wrong!
If I am not 100% open in my fiction, it doesn’t stand a chance. My son taught me this lesson. His elementary school was a trying time for our family. We moved a lot, my relationship with my husband was deteriorating, I had money troubles. To reward himself for all those upheavals at home, my poor boy started filching money from my wallet. Not much, a twenty at a time – to buy sweets or gums or Pokemon cards. Not drugs or cigarettes, thankfully. It took me a few months before I caught on and even longer before I gathered my tattered dignity and talked to him about it. It’s not easy to accuse your nine-year-old child of stealing your money. In the end, he promised he would never do that again and he’s kept his word.
Several years later, already in high school, he came to me on a nice spring morning and shamefully confessed that he was stealing my money again. I’m still cringing inside when I remember that I believed him. I forgot that it was April 1st, the Fools’ Day. We cleared up that misunderstanding pretty soon and laughed together, but I knew he was offended by my belief, and rightfully so. Years passed since that day. He’s thirty now, and a very nice young man. I’m proud of him but I still remember that April 1st.
Did it take courage for him, then a teenager, to come up with such a credible lie, even in jest? I think so. He told me a successful fiction story, and I bought it wholeheartedly. Am I brave enough to lie with such naked truthfulness to my reader? I hope so. What about you?