The Poetry Question

Discovering the Relevance of Words

Can You Tell When I’m Lying?

How important is honesty when it comes to writing? Do all writers have a creative license that allows them to make stuff up whenever they feel like it? I like to believe that a writer can make up a story or embellish an existing one whenever they want to, as long as they’re writing fiction. This is a problem when it comes to poetry and song lyrics. Prose is different because you can categorize it as non-fiction and then the reader knows that what you’re writing is an actual situation that you were a part of. When writing a poem, I am not always the narrator. The poem can be fiction even if I write it in the first person. However, most people tend to equate author with narrator and believe that you are the person that you’re writing about. That’s not always the case.

Another problem with lying to a reader is that if you don’t do it well enough then the reader will see straight through your lie. If you make up a part of Portland Oregon that doesn’t exist anyone who has been to Portland Oregon will see straight through that. However, if you completely make up an entire city that doesn’t actually exist nobody can call you out on your lies. It seems like honesty is only really important when the lie is something about the writers past. If I write a poem about growing up in an abusive home all of my details would have to be fabricated because I was never put in that situation; this is where it gets tricky. Some people believe that you can never truly describe a situation that you weren’t part of, or they believe that your lines will sound fake if you talk about something you didn’t experience. I disagree. If someone writes well enough they can make you believe anything. The mark of a good storyteller is when someone asks you “did that actually happen to you?” and you can confidently reply “no, it’s a story I just made up.” If people were incapable of describing situations they have never experienced then there would be no fantasy, no science-fiction, no magical realism.

A person accrues knowledge over a lifetime of observing, reading, and listening. As a writer, it is your responsibility to accurately transport your reader to the scene you’re describing. This doesn’t mean that a writer must have first hand experience, but when fabricating a story in your writing it is very important that you gather as much information as possible before you attempt to write about it. When I was in high school, a kid in my creative writing class wrote a short story about a child who had a stutter. I grew up with a stutter and had to take speech therapy classes through the first 4 years of elementary school. I could instantly tell from listening to his story that he had no actual knowledge of growing up with a speech impediment. This doesn’t mean that he couldn’t have accurately described it, he just didn’t gather enough information before hand about the topic of his piece; that’s like writing a war epic and knowing nothing about the military.

When someone accuses you of not knowing what you’re talking about, or lying, you have failed in your efforts to convince them. The more knowledge you gain on a subject the more accurately you can portray it. First hand experience is always the best, but a person can write an incredible lie as long as they gather enough information to accurately say what they’re trying to say. Lie to me, just do it well.

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This entry was posted on February 20, 2014 by in COMMENTARY.

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