Writing Assignment: Tell A Lie

by Randy Murray on November 5, 2010

I have noticed a rather nasty habit that many bloggers and writers have fallen prey to when publishing on the web: the distasteful habit of professed honesty and utter truthfulness.

Honesty has its place, but writers do better by never being bound by the limits of reality. Possibility and imagination offer fertile ground for developing a story. To develop their abilities, writers should practice the ancient and honorable art of lying.

Lying lets you try on another life, explore people’s reactions, and find out where your imagination and knowledge of details fail. It also puts something at risk, which helps to focus your attention.

Writing is like poker. In poker, you simply can’t play the game without something at risk; otherwise no one would ever fold. If you bluff and are called, you lose, so learning when to lie and how to get away with it is an important skill. A writer can make up stuff at will, but to really build believable stories and characters, they must also understand how to lie, what it feels like to get away with lying, and even more important: what it feels like to be discovered in a lie.

I’m not recommending lying as a life skill or for your personal relationships. Far from it. But I do think some experiments in simple lies, perhaps with strangers, might serve in helping develop your writing skills. Or maybe you can take an honest look at yourself and see where you already lie.

In today’s assignment, write a complete fabrication about your educational background. You may misappropriate someone else’s history or fabricate it completely.  Plausibility is a plus, but is not required.

Here’s my example:

Although I was never particularly strong at math, I was determined to become an engineer and fully intended to muscle my way through college no matter what. Since we were a strictly Catholic family, Notre Dame was always held up as where I would go to school and I did just that in the fall of 1968.

I struggled more than I thought I would, but managed to pull through most of the math and engineering courses with a C or better. But my enthusiasm was diminishing as the bills mounted and at the end of my junior year I was out of money. That’s when I enlisted in the Air Force rather than wait and be drafted into the Army. I thought that I might get some practical experience as a flight mechanic and rekindle my interest in engineering, but all that happened was I learned enough about wiring to help me get a job in mainframe computer operations when I mustered out of the service. I never did finish my degree, but that was never an issue. Just attending Notre Dame was enough to get me in the door for an interview. That I never graduated was beside the point.

You may leave your completed assignment in the comments section below.

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The Writing Assignment: Tell A Lie by Randy Murray, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ann Janzen November 6, 2010 at 9:47 am

When I was in college I worked part time in a laboratory… the director there saw my interest in the medical field and offered to send me to medical school after I completed my undergraduate degree. He told me that I would be a great pediatrician. I took his offer but stated that I wanted to be a cardiothorasic surgeon. He said that would also be excellent and pulled some strings and got me into Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. I studied there for 6 years and then moved to New York City where I did my internship at Weill-Cornell. I have now worked for 19 years as a top cardiothorasic surgeon in NYC at one of the world’s most renown hospitals. I have patients from all over the world who seek me out to perform their surgeries. Although I have been very busy, I have managed marriage and a large family of 7 children. Of course, I have needed full time live in help, but with my salary it was never a problem.


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