Writers are professional liars. We make things up but present those things in a way that’s sufficiently convincing that people believe us, or at least suspend their disbelief, for the time it takes them to read our books. So how does one lie and get away with it?
Video transcript follows below:
Writers are professional liars. We’re not necessarily liars in the sense that Jeffrey Archer is a criminally convicted liar, but we do practice a kind of deceit. We make things up but describe those things in a way that’s sufficiently convincing that people believe them, or at least suspend their disbelief, for the time it takes them to read the book.
So how do you lie and get away with it? Imagine it’s your turn to pay the electricity bill and instead you spend the money on an interactive Tracy Island toy. One month later, you’re sitting in the dark and your flatmate barks J’accuse! ‘What,’ you say, ‘I paid it! Honest I did. Seriously, I’m absolutely certain, I promise, really. I definitely did, you’ve got to believe me!’ She doesn’t believe you. She calls you a liar. But, if you tell her, ‘Sure I paid it, on Monday the fifteenth, just after eleven. I took the bill down to the post office; I remember because it was raining and there was a Labrador in the doorway shaking the water off its fur. It was that woman with the skin rash who served me. You know the one who always wears the really big earrings? She said, “Doesn’t it seem to cost more every time? Still, you need the extra heat when the weather’s like this.”’ At which point your flatmate apologises and curses the Post Office.
In other words, in life and in writing, we will believe you, or at least suspend our disbelief, if your account is specific, accurate, and knowledgeable.
And there’s a game I like to play with writers that’s based on the TV show Would I lie to You. The way I play it, I divide writers into pairs and get them to Take turns to state two things about themselves – the stranger the better. One statement should be true, the other should be false. The other players must ask questions in an attempt to work out which statement is false.
So the way this works, say I tell you I’m a keen skier and I own a chalet in the Alps. Really? You say, Where abouts? St. Moritz, I say. Oh yeah, what’s the skiing like? It’s, you know, good. Some steep bits, some not so steep bits. Really snowy and stuff. As soon as the detail breaks down you know that I’m making this up.
But, say I’ve read a few websites and I tell you about the powder in January, about a chairlift that always stops half-way, penduluming in the breeze, a téléférique (not a ‘ski lift;’ a téléférique) in which French people crush tight, skis resting against their shoulders, reflective goggles on their foreheads, and the whole cabin smells of sun block; if I describe the Piste de Gilles Deleuze – a notoriously challenging black run avoided by anyone with any sense – using such words as ‘moguls’ and ‘Couloire,’ then you might begin to believe me.
Once again, in life and in writing, we will believe you, or at least suspend our disbelief, if your account is specific, accurate, and knowledgeable.
Thanks for watching and good luck with your writing.
(The thumbnail image for this video uses a photograph by Ramon Llorensi. It’s covered by a Creative Commons license and you can find more of his work here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/slapbcn/)