Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Truth And Nothing But The Truth

Recently, one of my teenagers lied to me. I can hear what you're thinking, "Duh, Roxy, kids lie." I know they stretch the truth. But this wasn't a harmless white lie, so to speak. It wasn't, "Sure, Mom. I cleaned my room." *Wink, wink. Nod, nod*

Uncovering this lie was like lifting a metaphorical rock and unearthing a sophisticated network of deceit beneath. In our conversation following this discovery, I told my teenager to have the guts to stand by their decisions. Essentially, if you do something, have the courage to be honest about it, even if you think I won't like it.

In spite of this situation, I need to say that the individual in question is a remarkable, wonderful person. I love this child more than I can possibly convey, and I feel bad about being lied to because I thought we had a better relationship than that. Now, my teenager is learning a painful lesson; that once spent, trust is a difficult currency to earn.

Enough about parenting. I didn't invite you to my blog to distress you. However, I would like to apply this experience to writing. (Don't I apply almost everything to writing?) Anyway, here's my question: As you are reading fiction, do you ever feel lied to? I get that fiction, in and of itself, is fabricated, but shouldn't the author make us feel it is real, that the characters and plot lines exist? I cannot tell you how many times I have put a book down, unfinished, because a character inexplicably loses IQ points and begins saying and doing things that are, well, completely out of character. I also stop reading if I feel manipulated, patronized, or if the author appears to be writing by rote. I lose faith in the storyteller.

In his book On Writing, Stephen King wrote, "Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want. Anything at all . . . as long as you tell the truth."

Aww, Stephen. If you don't love his good heart as it is shown freely in On Writing then you need to read the book a few more times.

Integrity makes life easier, and I think that quality makes writing fiction easier as well. How do you keep your stories honest?


  1. By making sure I'm in that world when I'm writing about it. And sometimes I have to throw something out because I wrote it when I was in a strange mood and it comes out totally different.

  2. I love how you turned this into writing!

    I have felt lied to a few times when I've read novels and it's so distressing. I can suspend a lot when I'm reading, but if a character acts out of turn then... it's hard to buy into it.

  3. Great question! I think I keep it honest by not letting my character be too much of a goody-goody. When the natural impulse would be to lash out or do something equally bad, I can't "protect her" or have her hold back. In revision, I can see where I got scared of my protagonist's temporary self-desctructive streak and wrote a bunch of really boring chapters that go nowhere. Giving rein to her dark side in the middle has made the story more compelling and should motivate the climax better.

  4. Wonderful post!

    As for characters: It is difficult when writing to sometimes maintain the character's integrity especially when you feel them venturing off course. I find myself taking that character and readjusting the vision of them I have. Were there signs before that this was possible or is this an about face making who they were an utter falsehood? If I do feel they have lied then I must return to the beginning and see if it was coming. It it wasn't then well I have to decide is this a lie that in the end will make it a truth or is it one that make me & my reader throw the character out the window???

    As for the story: I work hard to make it all connect as it should with true credibility. But then there are those characters that are meant to lie, stories that are meant to mislead only for you to discover on the final page the shock of what you just read. The way it is presented means the most to me.

    Visit My Kingdom Anytime

  5. This is an interesting topic! I guees, for me I have to put my own heart into them or they won't feel honest.

    Your advice for your teenager was awesome:
    "Essentially, if you do something, have the courage to be honest about it, even if you think I won't like it." You're such a great mom!

  6. Your question at the end actually gives me pause, because I'm not sure how I keep things honest--I don't think about characters by maps and charts like some people do, they just sort of exist in my head (like it is for many others) and do things, and I write it down. I suppose when it's not honest, I'm getting in the way of what a character would do. I think sometimes the hardest thing is letting characters who have less than awesome motives be honest--like letting someone morally corrupt actually BE morally corrupt, or letting a character meant to be sympathetic disappoint you.

  7. Characterization is so important! I've never read Stephen King's book, but everybody raves about it. I'll have to pick it up. *sigh* Another TBR...lol

  8. I always feel upset, even angry, when I see posts or articles about how writing fiction is lying.
    The best fiction we can write (or read) comes from the most honest and truthful place deep inside the author.

    I'm sorry, Roxy, that you had this moment with your teen. I know the pain you feel. That said, it is a wonderful opportunity for them to learn and grow, under the safety of our net.


  9. I like what someone else said about making sure I'm in my own world. I always try to make my characters as real as possible, and look at things from their perspective. How they would react, as opposed to how I would.

  10. I hate it most when they patronize, like you're too stupid to get it.

    And how can you lie, when what you write is your characters truth?

  11. Roxy, I'm sorry you were lied to. I dread that day with my own children, even though I'm trying to build a relationship that makes them feel comfortable about being honest with me. On the upside, you sound like you handled it well - at least after the dust settled.

    I love that quote of Stephen King's On Writing too. There are books in which the characters come across as inauthentic or one-dimensional or vapid. I can take someone flawed or a bit unlikable, but the character has to seem real to me. Sure, we're writing fiction, but we need to be true to our characters.

    What does DC have to say about this?

  12. When I feel that a writer hasn't put his full effort into writing the book or isn't being sincere in some way, or is just writing for money then I feel lied to. I don't read those writers.

    To me writing is about communication and especially about communicating truth through the medium of a fiction story or non-fiction story or whatever. It's about truth and should always be sincere.


  13. I'll offer up another quote: "Suit the action to the word, the word to the action, with this special observance, that you o'erstep not the modesty of nature:for any thing so o'erdone is from the purpose of playing, whose end, both at the first and now, was and is, to hold as 'twere the mirror up to nature: to show virtue her feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure." Hamlet, III:ii:17-24.

    When we hold that "mirror up to nature," is what is reflected is on glass -- it's not really the person, the tree, the dog, etc. It's just glass. In fact, the image is reversed. If we think about it in terms of art, the mirror the artist (or writer) holds is there in order that we may see ourselves more clearly.

    Continuing with the mirror-metaphor, isn't one of the purposes of art to show us not only as we are, but what we could be? King's "Lisey's Story" not only shows a perfectly ordinary marriage, but an extraordinary one; a perfectly ordinary set of sisters who are also extraordinary; an ordinary woman who is also extraordinary. I can see myself in the book, but I can also see myself better (double entendre totally intended.)

    Oh, and Roxy -- kudos on the King reference!

  14. I fall into my characters, kind of like method acting...except it's method writing, of course. Hopefully that keeps them all honest and real.

  15. Hi

    Bad teenager!! :-) Good mum!! Nice Daniel Craig!


    As for writing - I always say if I'm critical about others' way of portraying a character then I should be doubly so with mine. I guess the main thing for me to remember is that - if I don't beleive in my characters, then why should I expect readers to?

    Take care

  16. I'm with you - there's a difference between an unexpected (really good) twist and a total change for the convenience of the plot. Drives me batty!

    Good luck to you and your teen. Hopefully this can turn out to be a new starting point for openness. It's tough - both growing up and having kids grow up.

  17. This is a problem I'm having right now with a character. He's a smartass. He runs off at the mouth a lot. He's hard to impress. But he's also got a heart, so when he does something nice, it seems out of character for him, but it's who he is. He's tough on the outside, and his kindness is random. I've known many people like that. People always surprise me. A character can be OUT of character on occasion, because people are, too. Not dramatically, but within reason.

  18. I love "On Writing". I think back to a lot of his lessons in that book too.

    I think I've experienced the feeling of being lied to, both by characters in books and in TV shows (I'm, sadly, a sucker for TV.) It's a disappointment when that happens.

  19. For me, being lied to in a book is when a character hasn't stayed true to form or when circumstances don't add up. I think what helps keep your story honest is to have others read it before you send it out. My writers group is very good at telling me what works and what doesn't. I'd rather hear it from them than from my editor...or worse a book reviewer after the book is published. Great post!

  20. Blogger buddies, I really appreciate your comments. I learn something from each one. I think good writing is truthful, and so, I changed the title of this post. (Lola, I hope I didn't offend you talking about lying in fiction because I would hate to do that. You are one of my favorite people, and I agree with you wholeheartedly.) I think most authors write with their hearts, out of love for the craft and nothing could be more honest than that. Thank you all. I think you guys inspire me more than Daniel Craig!

  21. Oh great post. I guess I try to be honest by being consistent with my characters. Sometimes they do or say things that just aren't them, and it's not just a moody thing. I'm not being true to who they are.

  22. I need to turn off the censor (my mom's voice) and write with reckless abandon.

  23. Wow I'm impressed that you turned this into writing! How fun! Gosh I really need to grab his book but I haven't gotten around to it I haven't met one person who hasn't learned something from his book! I need to get a copy!!

    I am truthful in my stories as possibly as a fiction writer can be of course! I stay true to my characters and her personality even though the location might be the biggest lie ever :)

    Awesome post!

  24. I'm not sure how to keep it honest. I guess when I write I'm in their world feeling what they feel and try to keep them true to themselves.
    BTW-My 4 year old is already lying to me. I dread the teenage years.

  25. I have felt lied to in a book or two, and I get pretty ticked off about it. It had been an investment of my precious time.

    When I write I try to step right into the characters' heads. Sometimes I have read the dialogue out loud over and over to make sure it sounds credible.

  26. Roxy, my lovely friend, no, you have not offended me. Not at all. I'm so sorry if my comment came across that way. I meant that I've seen many posts over time that say as writers we are liars. I don't believe that is what you said at all. I even understand why others think that we 'lie' by writing fiction.
    I just see it differently, and I know you do too. :)

    I adore you!