Tag Archives: truth

Psychological Writing Series: Honesty and Truth

I know, I know.  You’re learning way too much about moi through this series, but please bear with me.  And promise not to hold any of my childhood naughtiness against me, as I have learned some restraint in the intervening years.

Honesty.  Or rather the lack of it–as my story goes.

I was the world’s biggest liar as a kid. 

“Did you lose your earring?”  Nope.  Really, that’s not it in the heater vent where I dropped it two days ago.  Even if it looks exactly the same as the one in my ear right now.  Even if I spent hours trying to fish it out before you noticed it was missing.

I lied my way into and out of things.  I also lied myself into the corner more often than I could count.  Seriously.  I might as well have had my name on the living room corner for all the time I spent with my nose in it.

According to Merriam-Webster, honesty is “adherence to the facts: sincerity.”  I could argue this point, as I was very sincere in every one of my lies.  But if I don’t try to twist the definition, it really comes down to this: honesty equals the truth. 

 Or does it?

I’ve worked as a child advocate for many years and the most eye-opening thing I’ve learned is this: there is no such thing as absolute truth.  Instead, we all bring our experiences to the table when we interpret and remember the facts of an incident. 

Example: ask five witnesses to a crime the same exact question and you will get five variations of the “facts.”  Sometimes these factual accounts can differ so tremendously as to ring false.  Yet each witness is providing the absolute truth–according to them.

Confused yet?

I’ll simplify.  Remember back to the last disagreement you had with your significant other, parent or friend.  Now, what happened?  That’s right, really think about what happened.  Try to remember the exact words that were used. Where you were standing.  How you crossed your arms over your chest or tapped your foot. 

Now what does that look like from your adversary’s perspective?  Will s/he remember the exact same words, the places you both stood, how you looked and what you did?  Maybe they didn’t watch your toe tap, but noticed the ear tug and scrunching eyebrows.

Did someone see or hear this conflict?  I bet s/he remembers something else as well.

And yet when recounting the incident, you will all swear your version is true because that’s what you remember. For realsies, people cannot recount the absolute truth.  Our personalities, past experiences, moods and focus all affect how we see and feel things at any given time.  I call this personal truth.

Conflicting personal truths can make navigating relationships extremely difficult both in real life and in fiction.  Especially when each party is sincere in his/her version of the truth.

Often, however, confused is what we want our characters to feel.  In romance novels, it benefits us to have our characters misinterpret intentions.  In thrillers, we need to plant seeds of doubt in our MC’s mind about what is happening and how it happened.  This confusion creates conflict.

As writers, it is our job to know the facts of our tale.  Only then can we effectively allow our characters to bend the truth to fit their life experiences and personalities.  When each character is sincere and honest in their version of events, our stories retain natural conflict just like in real life.  And this, my fellow scribes, is the absolute truth.

Does recounting a personal truth make someone a liar?  How do we, as writers, learn to see all the variations one truth has to offer?  How do we reconcile this for our characters and, in real life, for ourselves?  Can the ability to understand the inherent falsity of truth make us more honest?

Curious minds want to know.

PS: my spellchecker isn’t working at the moment, so please forgive any typos!

Short Fiction Sunday- The truth about Lies

THE TRUTH ABOUT LIES

I walked up to the woden shack and peered inside the smoked-glass window.  I had a date to meet my writing buddies and loyal followers of my literary journey through the metaphorical woods. 

Okay, not so metaphorical.  I swung my canoe up and out, stopping briefly at the shoulder, then hip.  I propped it against the log building and wiped the sweat from my brow.  The woods were hot, as only a humid summer day can be in the Midwest.  I needed a drink and a break from the swarm of mosquitoes that had followed me along the path.  I was also late for my meeting.

I pushed my way inside and bellied up to the empty bar.   

“Tequila,” I said.  “With a clamato chaser.”

The barkeep eyed me skeptically.  “Odd drink of choice.”

I shrugged.  “I’m a writer.”  As if that would explain everything.  And it did.  In a sense.  Why else would I be portaging the BWCA?  I had something important to reveal and it had to be done in person. 

However, a quick glance around the room showed I was alone in the Cyber Cafe.  Alone with the multitude of stuffed, porcelain and painted calves that decorated the bar. 

“”Three seventy-five.”  The barkeep slammed a glass down in front of me.  Amber liquid sloshed over the rim and dribbled down the etched likeness of a cow. 

It was like a bad omen and I shivered slightly despite the summer heat.  I dug in my backpack for some change.  Organization had never been my strong suit.  Not since my big sister ran over my head with her blue banana seat bike.  I sported tire tracks on my forehead for days after that.  However, in moments like these, I felt my sis might be right that the damage was more than skin deep. 

I sighed and began emptying my bag onto the counter.  The barkeep blew out a sigh to rival my own as he watched the growing mound of junk.  Hair clips, chapstick, Kindle, trophy, kleenex…. 

“What’s this, eh?” 

I peered out from the depths of my backpack.  The barkeep held my blue and silver trophy in his hand.  His eyes gleamed for the first time.  “Oh, that’s nothing.”

“A tro-phy, eh?”  He reverently ran his fingers over the molded calf on top.  “Says ro-de-oh.”

My cheeks grew hot and I tugged at my collar, embarrassed that I felt the need to bring my trophy at all.  Yet I had a nagging suspicion my cyber buddies would have more than a nagging suspicion if I revealed the truth without proof. 

I reached for the trophy and popped it back in my bag.  I fished out my cash and dropped it on the counter, stood and scanned the room for my friends.  Their lateness had passed rude and was dangerously close to impertinent.  “What’s the name of this place?”

The barkeep shot me a look that said he was still unhappy about me pulling the trophy out of his hand.  “The Cyber Cafe.”

I paced.  Jean’s voice had been exactly how I pictured it when she explained the directions to our meeting place.  At the time, she had begged me to divulge my two truths and a lie.  I refused to give in.  Yet now, as I paced the back woods bar, my imagination took hold.  Maybe she was miffed with me for not telling her.  I shook my head.  Surely that wouldn’t be enough for her to misdirect me.

Eventually, the tequila ran right through me and I made my way to the restroom.  After washing my hands, I noted a sign on the door.  Thanks for stopping by the Cyber Calf.

A bad feeling settled over me as I made my way to the counter.  “What’s the name of this place again?”

The barkeep froze, his rag mid dry on the shot glass.  “I’ll tell ya for that neat little trophy you got.” 

I weighed my options.  I could hand over my championship trophy and figure out where the heck my journey had taken me, or I could stubbornly hold onto the only tangible evidence of my first place win (not second) and stay stranded forever. 

After adding to the barkeep’s growing collection of calf paraphenalia, I hoisted my canoe and made double time through the woods.  The trail ended beside a well-kept log cabin.  The Cyber Cafe.

It was with great relief that when I entered this bar, a crowd of familiar faces sat at a table with an open seat.  I dropped my backpack and plopped into the chair. 

“Sorry I’m late.”  I scanned the crew, putting faces to names in real time. 

Jean smiled, raised her margarita and said, “Must’ve made a pit stop at the Cyber Calf, eh?”

Welcome to Canada!