I LiedPosted: August 28, 2010
I didn’t bake oatmeal cookies like I told you I did in a previous post. I described mixing up the flour, eggs, and pure vanilla, then blending in the steel-cut oats. I spoke of brown sugar dissolved in melted creamery butter. I had you almost tasting them, didn’t I? You were ready to bite in, weren’t you?
I even told you I picked the raisins out of the dough and poured in chocolate chips. I’ve never done that. Never in my life. I lied. I made the whole thing up.
How do you feel that I lied to you? Was that right of me? Was that ethical?
I’m a pretty good liar, I think. I included enough sensory detail to make it seem real, and I actually have baked a similar recipe of oatmeal cookies. I know how to do it. But I didn’t do it.
Slap my hand. Kick me in the shin. I deserve it.
Creative nonfiction writers have a contract with their readers — to tell the truth, to stick with the facts. “You can certainly re-remember the scene as best as you can. You can certainly research and pull from that research. You can use old photos — and the details in them — to create a scene for the reader. You can even imagine what might have happened at a certain time and place as long as you tell the reader that is what you’re doing,” Neil White says.
I didn’t do that. I just flat out lied. I did it because there’s a lot of talk about how creative nonfiction writers can make up scenes and add details to their true stories to make them more compelling and I wanted to show what it feels like to get that socked-in-the-gut feeling when you find out it’s all a lie, that that story, while compelling and mouth-watering, is not real, not true.
So I’m telling you I did it, I’m telling you why I did it, and I’m telling you I won’t do it again because I don’t believe in doing it. I’m of the school that will tell you to stick to the truth. Because that’s what nonfiction is.
“Any agent, editor, publisher with any decent reputation will tell you to call your work fiction if you fabricate anything,” White concludes.