Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Lies, Lies, Lies

After last week’s post, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to come up with anything interesting to say on this blog, ever again. The wonderful comments and exclamations of joy from everyone got me thinking about why stories like the one I posted have so much more impact than stories like Eliot Spitzer’s resignation or Geraldine Ferraro’s disparaging remarks, in a culture where negativity seems to reign supreme.

My conclusion: honesty. Simple, heartfelt honesty is a powerful thing – and the reason I prefer my minimum-wage fast food job to the lucrative but deceitful and manipulative world of advertising. I’m reminded of the movie Crazy People. If you’re not familiar with it: A man who works in advertising, disillusioned by the lies his department routinely generates, creates a brutally honest ad that is inadvertently run in the New York Times (“The Freak: This movie won’t just scare you, it will f*ck you up for life”), generating enormous success. The slip lands him in a mental institution, where the inmates help him create a truth-in-advertising phenomenon, using such slogans as “Metamucil: We help you go to the toilet so you don’t get cancer and die.” Another insane ad for diet pills urges people to call their toll-free number and admit they’re fat, in order to receive a free plant.

The sad fact is: honesty is refreshing. When we find it, we latch onto it as though we’ll never see its shining face again. Casual lies are ingrained, almost expected, in our culture, and we’re even encouraged to tell “white lies” in order to spare feelings. Lies are convenient, while honesty is hard.

What does this have to do with writing? Everything. This statement may seem oxymoronic, but I am confident in asserting the truth of it:

Good fiction is honesty.

The stories are made up, the characters are made up; but the themes and the emotions are very real. Whether consciously or unconsciously, every writer infuses his or her work with the truths life has shown them. When we get it right – when we manage to paint those truths in vivid color, using interesting characters and a compelling plot – our work shines. The truth may be positive (good triumphs over evil) or negative (change is inevitable), but it is always there.

Good writers may be just like everyone else on the surface. They may practice deceit where society requires it. They may lie and tell a friend they look great in canary yellow and fluorescent orange camouflage. However, when it comes to fiction, a good writer is incapable of lying. The truths they have come to understand will penetrate the story, and strengthen its honesty, which in turn reflects the truths of the reader.

We love fiction for its honesty. And that’s the truth.


S. W. Vaughn


Kim Smith said...


Honesty is the best and worst in one's creativity. It can make your writing sing, but it may be some of the most difficult you ever write.

thanks S.W.!

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

What a powerful piece, SW. You nailed it in this one. Lies are so rampant in our culture - accepted, propagated, encouraged - that it IS supremely refreshing to hear someone blurt out the truth. Whether in corporate America, the political arena (aren't they just the norm there??), or any salesroom you might wander into - we are prepared to be bamboozled and deceived. And we're not even shocked anymore, it's become so "normal."

Hoorah for this excellent piece, and I salute you! Keep telling the truth in your powerful writing, as you always do, and the world will learn and gather at your proverbial feet. Kudos!

Julie Ann Shapiro said...

I think it's the characters' emotions above all us that need to resonate as authentic, at least for me. All the rest of the book can be make up and stuff. One of my fiction writing mentors summed it up something like this, "You can have the most bizzare world ever in a story, the most zainy thing there is, but it needs to ring true for the world the author has created."

pat said...

I am here taking notes...eavesdropping on all of you with my little red notebook! Seriously, as a new writer,who has never taken a course...hell,I don't even read as much as I'd like...I feel like this site is so full of great advice. This article goes under the heading...Be True. Seems simple, but boy, it's hard to stop writing for an audience and to just listen to your heart...I know that sounds trite, but if I try to take the stuff right from there without too much gray matter getting in the way, it seems to work, every time.I'll keep working on that!

Pat Fowler

Marta Stephens said...

SW you are such a wealth of insight.

During my book tour last summer one interviewer asked me how much of me was in my novel. I hadn’t thought about it before but yes, I’m in there somewhere. I thought about that as I read your post. Although characters and plots aren't real, their emotions and reactions to situations have to come from some point deep inside of the writer. Good point!