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Archive for January 11th, 2011

Oh, what a tangled web we weave
When first we practice to deceive!
~Walter Scott

A conversation with a young writer a while back on honesty combines with an apparent lack of integrity in business and government coming across in the world news and personal experience with some who have a very casual relationship with truth and leads me to today’s post.

I make up stories. Of course I do; I’m a writer. I write about ghosts of pirates and old ladies who can fly and all sorts of other completely fictional scenarios. The fact that many of the tales I jot down never happened does not, however, make them lies. In fact, vital to each is its honesty.

My young pal is writing sci-fi, intricate stories of the seemingly impossible convoluted by circumstance outside the limits of anything but his imagination, yet my advice to him is: Keep it real; keep it honest.

How does that work? Well, the same way it does in life.

There are rules. There are always rules. Rules of action and reaction, of fairness, of balance, and through the process of creating a world, even an outrageous world of your own making, rules must be engraved in stone and followed.

For example, I just finished writing a scene in the book I’m working on now where a character is standing high on a rock contemplating the view before her. In reality, there is no woman, no rock and no view until I write it. It’s at that point it becomes substance, even if the substance is nothing but a string of words. I could easily endow her with superpowers that would allow her to leap, then fly, or I could make her as big as a cloud or as small as a gnat, but the one thing I cannot do is write what can’t be according to the rules of her world.

She feels the breeze upon her skin, so that breeze must be what a breeze is and her interpretation of it must be within the realm of what is possible for her. I can choose not to include the breeze in the tale, but it’s there and there’s no room for cheating, for glancing over what must be, what is. Her world isn’t airless, nor is she the type not to notice a warm, enveloping breath, so it must be written as it happens.

I wrote recently about my way of thinking of life as a series of books within a book, how I have a mental library I access as a meditation technique and where I store stuff in some sort of order I don’t always have access to.

Thinking in those terms, when reading news accounts of real people, I often wonder how their books play out. Not the truly evil, as there are plenty of horror tales that run according to plot, but those who bend and twist truth as if it is something bendable and twistable. It’s not, you know. It’s not. And the spiders weaving those tangled webs are very frequently left to dangle on a thread going nowhere.

It’s the same with people in the non-newsworthy world … whatever that may be at any given moment … who seem to think they’re getting along just fine by tweaking reality when it seems convenient, doing one thing, then saying they’re doing another … or nothing at all … living one lie after another as if life is nothing but a series of lily pads offering options to hop without consequence rather than a path that will be taken no matter how many times a plop in the muck happens.

The life books of those folks must be full of missing chapters and run-on sentences leading nowhere. All that doubling back must get tiresome, and since none of us gets a chance for a full rewrite, the story must grow terribly labyrinthine and cluttered with many dead ends.

The fact is many of our stories interconnect, fact and fiction, and once we’re part of another book or another’s book becomes part of ours plots mingle. Everyone is on their way to their own ending, but one influences the other and plot twists often happen in tandem. When all is based in real, in truth and honesty and integrity, scenes open, run and close in an order that makes sense, that scans, that works no matter how deep the tale, how serious the diegesis, how diabolical the outcome.

It’s cheap and easy to write bad fiction … there’s certainly a lot of that about … just as it is to live it. When the frog eats the spider and the lily pad sinks we lose interest until they’re scrambling to find something with substance to pull themselves up by. That would be truth.

There are, of course, various interpretations of truth, degrees of certitude, some flexibility in defining where accuracy and honesty go in different directions. In writing, such partings must be … well … spelled out, clearly or obliquely, or readers may feel tricked into a web that’s lost its form. Bored and frustrated, they’ll turn away, stop caring, toss the book at the wall and vow never to go THERE again, and the dishonest writer has just slit their own throat.

In life, however, a lie is a lie, and although some may appear to gain ground with the telling thinking they’re paving the way toward what they may think is a right direction, in the long run gossamer lily pads go nowhere.

Gossamer Lily Pads and Where They’ll Get You

If a frog eats a spider
and the spider’s had a fly
where’s the nutrition if
it’s all been a lie?

The spider says, “I’ve done it,
and there’s a way to go”
So a hop to a lily pad
makes sense to the toad.

When the spider can’t be trusted
and there never was a fly
and the frog knows the lily pad
is nothing but a lie,

just loosely woven spider spit,
a floating maze of fraud,
it serves them all quite rightly
to be left to swim in mud.

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