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05-19 Sarah Raplee – Riff on 7 yrs. Of SPAM & a Giveaway

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

It Pays To Be A Good Liar

Hi everyone.
B. A. Binns here.  April is confession month at Romancing The Genres

But I’m not here to confess. I’m going to tell why I embrace the art of lying. According to Irish writer and poet Oscar Wilde, “Lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of Art.” My art is fiction, forcing me to become a veteran liar.
Or maybe that’s vice versa, a chicken and egg thing.
Shrink alert here: People live inside my skull with me and they whisper their lies (I mean lives) to me. Seriously, I sometimes feel like I am channeling someone and just putting their stories on paper or on eReader screens. As Albert Camus, a French author and philosopher, once said, “The purpose of the fiction lie is to reveal big truths.” I have to lie, and lie well, in order to make readers feel emotions, see lives that are like, and yet often unlike, their own. I thrust readers into ethical dilemmas and force them to make decisions that might affect their lives, the country, maybe even the future of the entire human race…without ever being hurt by the consequences. Instead, readers see the result on their “whipping boy,” the protagonist, as he or she stands in for them on the pages and in the face of the hard truths of life.
One of my teenaged characters begins her life in my current  work-in-progress, Minority Of One, by reciting her great lies.
“My name is Sheila Galliano and I am excited to be starting my new school. I love being in Chicago. I would never go back to the way things were.” I manage those lies without hesitation.
She is Sheila, but she’s not a Galliano, she hates her new school almost as much as she hated the old one where she was the sole American outsider, and as for being in Chicago – she knows her mother only came to that city to reunite with an old lover, the man who drove her father to suicide. There is nothing she wants more than the impossible, to have her old life restored.
Sometimes human beings lie because the truth hurts. Here another Minority Of One character deals with the results of telling his family a hard truth:
If I could just get a do-over I think I would be smart and keep my secret to myself. Bite my tongue until it bled before I said one word. Truth set you free? My truth was a scalpel, easy in, and so smooth I didn’t even realize how badly I’d hurt my brother until the edge did its work and moved on.
Lies, baby. That’s the trick.
Many of us learn that the truth can be painful to ourselves and to others when we are very young, practically as soon as we learn how to talk. The ethical question for readers in this passage is, is this character correct? Are lies the answer? What about white lies and lies of omission? According to Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, “When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.” But is a lie to save someone else really bad? 
That’s a question Malik Kaplan, the protagonist in my Feb 2013 release, Being God, has to face when he lets his father believe he is guilty of a crime committed by another young man.
My father turns to me. “Did Spencer lie?” It almost sounds like he wants me to say yes.
My lies bind my lips tight. I can’t tell the truth and hurt my friend.

Fiction allows readers to examine issues and call into question their own beliefs, just as thrill rides let them test their reaction to danger, all in the safety of their own heads. YA fiction plays a special role in this, because it is read by adolescents and teens, people who are beginning to pull free of their parents grip, examining the rules and mores they have accepted until now. Adolescence is generally the time when we first at odds with those of the adults we love and trust; when we take our first step toward adulthood and a mind of our own. Teens are active in trying to find their own place in the world and not just follow the adult rules. That’s why they need stories. Non-fiction tells us what is, fiction lets us examine what could be. Fiction gives us an opportunity to think critically, to make decisions, and to test out results of those decisions.
Maybe fiction isn’t really a lie, just the truth as the imagination sees it. I spent a lot of time doing “what if” scenarios during my business career. As an author, I have to lie and tell the truth, all at the same time. When I talk to students, almost inevitably one asks me if my books are “real.” I could tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth by saying “no.” But that would end up being the biggest lie of all.
There is no Sheila Galliano living with the shame of her father’s suicide, No Malik Kaplan using alcohol to deal with feelings he is not worthy of love, no David Albacore wishing he could rip out the DNA that reminds him he is related to his mother’s killer.  But there are people who have lived pieces of those lives, felt the emotions, been presented with their problems and been forced to live with the consequences of the solutions they chose.  The feelings are real, even if I am not recounting a news story, or channeling the spirit of someone telling me the facts of his or her life, what I write is no lie. So now, when I am asked if my books are real, I tell students yes. There are people who have lived through the same things the kids in my book live through. Real people, real lives. Maybe even some of the kids listening to me speak.
And now, since “The slickest way in the world to lie is to tell the right amount of truth at the right time-and then shut up,” according to author Robert A. Heinlein in Stranger in a Strange Land, one of my all-time favorite books, I will stop.

But don’t you stop. Please comment and share your feelings about “the lies that reveal the truth.” Is that really the purpose of fiction?


Judith Ashley said...

As a reader, if I want to know about 'real people', I'll find a biography or autobiography. Having said that, as a reader of fiction, there must be something in the story and charaterization that is 'real' to me. Oh, and if it is 'too real' as in blood and gore, I don't read it. I've seen enough of 'real life' in my 'real life'.

As a writer I want my stories to show my readers how one person handles the challenges of life and that regardless of how difficult those challenges can be you can achieve your happily-ever-after.

B. A. Binns said...

I think the "real" question is much more of a "can I see myself in this story" question. just as an example, there are lots of readers who can't see a human girl falling in love with a vampire, and see no reason to read something so unreal. Ditto for the idea of a multi-billionaire choosing to wed a secretary. They can't suspend their disbelief that far and therefor don't feel an urge to read. They don't need a story that's 100% the truth, otherwise they would go for a biography. But they do want a "there but for the grace of God go I" kind of situation where they can suspend disbelief and identify with the protagonist and the situation.

I want to show the same things in my writing that you do, how people handle their challenges. Only sometimes my endings aren't happily-ever-after but hopefully-for-now. Another gentle lie.

Lynn Lovegreen said...

Great post, lots of food for thought here. I agree that fiction deals in true lies, that our stories may be fiction but they are based in real life, real situations. One reason I read so much as a teen was to figure out human nature, and fiction helps us do that.

Sonya said...

Great post. Love what you said too about your endings.

DT Krippene said...

As Dr. House says in the medical drama, House, "Everyone lies." Heinlein is my all time favorite, and he's right. When the the truth gets stretched, so does the mouth in its inability to quit while its ahead. Good post.

B. A. Binns said...

Thanks for visiting, Lyn, Sonya and DT.

I tend to build up my characters first, then decide what situations to put them in both to bring out their flaws and to make them stronger afterward. So they are "real" to me before they ever get on a page. And that's no lie. I tell people I take my characters shopping with me, and we argue over what to buy.

I know a happily ever after ending is a requirement in romance writing, and sometimes it does happen in real life (along with a lot of bumpy roads) but I feel more comfortable with the idea of hopeful endings.

P. S. I loved Dr. House.

Sarah Raplee said...

What a truly beautiful and compelling analysis of fiction writing and reading!

Thank you, B.A.