Tag Archives: honesty

Post: Honesty is the Best Policy

25 Jun

We writers are in a bit of a bind when it comes to expectations. We are expected to entertain, but society often demands us to inform. I personally think it’s funny that we have to be the mirror of the world and reflect the faults through an ultimately empty image, but that’s a post for another time. What I’m currently musing about, is the fact that we are told to entertain at all costs, but we are damned if we don’t properly inform.

I don’t think it’s a conscious stigma or burden placed upon us. I feel it’s just human nature. People want to lose themselves in a different reality- but not one so different that they feel truly alien. It’s exactly why 99% of extraterrestrials in books and movies have a spoken language and desires for expansion (in either knowledge or territory). Hell, it’s why they even look like us. Most of the time, they’re bipedal humanoids with only a few differences in proportion. Why can’t we just tell a science fiction story as it is in reality? The story would at least fill our quota for information. Well, because we all know that it’d be incredibly boring. What would we call it? “The Story of the Microbe that May (Perhaps) -Probably- Existed Beneath the Rust?” Even the title makes me want to fall asleep!

So what gives? Why is it that we’re demanded to tell the truth but society has such fickle demands when it comes to entertainment? I think this is something that a lot of writers overlook in the pursuit of good stories. See, if life were a rally, it would sound a lot like a grassroots political event. You’d have a bunch of people yelling “we want the truth!” and a heck of a lot more merely listening to the speeches and being entertained by their notions. Now imagine that this is a Tea-Party rally and just across the park is an Occupy demonstration. If they both manage to go for more than five minutes without starting a riot, I’d be questioning reality- but let’s pretend for this hypothetical scenario that they can co-exist. On opposite extremes, and on opposite sides of the park, they’re preaching two truths. Now, common sense says that only one of them can be right. But, at least in this case, common sense is wrong.

Many writers begin their careers under the false pretense that there is only one truth. Usually, it is the one that they happen to prescribe to, but that’s not egregious or wrong. That’s merely human nature. The fault comes when one is unable to accept the existence of other truths.

There is no such thing as the truth. There are merely perspective. Writers aren’t tasked with telling a facet to a single universal truth, we are tasked with telling a truth. We’re not particle physicists; imagine if you had to connect every single fictional work through some sort of unified literary theory. It’s not just improbable, it’s impossible. These books represent entire universes and realities endemically separate from each other. Sure, you can find patterns (I’m a huge proponent of “inter-textuality”) but aside from the occasional similarity, you can’t unify all works. So how else could you possibly tell the “truth” and simultaneously “entertain” unless they are both part of the same process?

The process, of course, being lying.

You have to, have to, need to lie. As a writer, there is no other way. Everything from fiction to articles, you have to put forward a reality that inherently fails to account for the totality of everything around you. Whether you realize it or not, by not creating a comprehensive encyclopedia filled with every possible paradigm, you are lying. You are omitting, you are being (in a sense) deceitful. Now, is this execrable? Of course not! This is the very foundation of writing! Stories, lies, and fantasies! These lies tell the story of a truth, just not THE truth- only when they disregard reality entirely do they become empty lies.

We as writers are tasked with seemingly conflicting mandates. Entertain the masses, yet tell them the truth. It is ironically through lies which we can fulfill this contract with the world. It just goes to show how seemingly paradoxical and wonderous writing can be. Honesty is the best policy, but deceit is the best means of implementation.

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Book Notes: Devil at My Heels- Part 2

1 Jun

The more I continued to read Devil at My Heels, the more it seemed to have a magnetic attraction to my hands. I simply couldn’t put the book down. The language was so honest, his experiences were so exceptional, I found myself balanced between total acceptance and disbelief. To say I was entranced is an understatement. I’ve never used this blog to directly endorse a particular book, but this deserves it. I insist that you somehow get your hands on a copy and start reading. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Anyways, to the actual dissection. First and foremost, again I was incredibly impressed with the honesty of the book. He openly admitted to remembering certain things while reporting on others which are frankly less than illustrious.  On the other hand, he wasn’t afraid to just admit that his memory failed him. This double whammy of human fallacy (this mixing of past mistakes and current admittance) makes his story seem to come right from his lips instead of the page.

Other than his honesty, his survival skills are nothing less than extraordinary. Zamperini survived days on a raft while watching a comrade slip slowly into death and staving off sharks. Afterwards, he got to experience the hostility of being a prisoner of war. He was gone for such an extended period of time, he became one of the few men in history to look at his own death notice and take pictures of it. His journey shows the nearly unshakable human resolve to live.

His journey and exploits do more than just give me a great read. As with any other book I’ve read, it gives me certain invaluable lessons in pursuing my own literary merits. Normally, books will simply reinforce certain givens: diction is imperative, tone is invaluable, and story  quality is the most important fact of all. This book actually managed to teach me new lessons entirely!

As I have hinted at in earlier posts, I have a new novel I’ll be starting soon. The subject is still going to be kept very hush-hush for now. I can say, though, that it will be written in first-person perspective. Although it seems like it should be the simplest way to write a novel, I would contend that it’s actually the most difficult. When writing in the third-person, one is allowed to choose their omnipotence. Most of the time, the narrator knows all (or almost all) so the writer really doesn’t have to restrain their thoughts or words to fit a particular paradigm. When writing in the first, they have to force themselves to know everything but write as if they know next to nothing. They need to admit the faults of their characters, speak, think and act like believable entities. All while simultaneously creating characters and environments which reflect their thoughts and act as a vehicle of believability. This story with its unparalleled truthfulness is going to help keep me honest.

Or at least honest to the truth I’ll be presenting in my fiction piece.

Reading Notes: Devil At My Heels- Part 1

24 May

I knew immediately when I started reading the book that I was going to like it an awful lot. My reasons are pathetically simplistic though; I always love books with distance runners as protagonists. Maybe it’s a skewed perspective (it’s hard to truly judge one’s own reflection), but any character who runs distances exceeding a mile wins my adoration. I see them as hard-working, dedicated, and honorable. Maybe it’s because I know from first hand experience the sort of physical and psychological demands such pursuits place upon a man. Maybe it’s because I see their success and hope that I can reach it myself. Maybe it’s because through the sport we are linked as distant kin and I always like to see family (even if we are existentialy related) in a positive light. Maybe, maybe, maybe- I could ruminate all night.

But what continued to entice me through the first few chapters is that the author, Louis Zamperini, didn’t even see himself in such a positive light. The autobiographical account is, in fact, so brutally honest that the readers are shocked into reading more. It’s not hard to understand why. We as readers love to have human characters, people we can relate to in benefice and folly alike. Most of the time, we just choose to ignore the folly. Zamperini is both blessed and cursed with the absence of invention. His life reads like the most incredulous of novels. But it’s not solely because of the exciting people he met, or his coincidental placement in major historical events (if it was, I’d might as well read Forrest Gump). It’s because of his hypnotic honesty, his unadulterated truth, that this reads so brilliantly. The prose has been incredibly conversational through the first sixty pages and I honestly hope it continues this way. I feel as if he is singling me out of a crowd of thousands while simultaneously addressing every other sole just as prominently. It’s a remarkably flattering style that’s all too rare in autobiographical accounts these days.

The first two decades of his life would be enough for him to write books and tour off of. He grew from rugged, delinquent behavior into an olympian. If that isn’t a rags-to-riches story then, hell, I don’t know what is. But it’s how he delivered his story, how he never shied away from his past, that continues to mesmerize me. He placed eighth at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Anyone somewhat familiar with history could tell you that this particular Olympiad was memorable by immaculate streets, incredible competition, and Nazi banners peppering the skyline. Zamperini tells of his views of Hitler as a child, how he and fellow Olympians would salute the Führer, and how he stole a Nazi flag (which was recovered and later gifted to him anyways) just so he could remember his good times in Nazi Germany. For God’s sake, this is a man who admitted to meeting Hitler and brushing it off (then and now) as unremarkable. Gutsy sentiments considering the understandable atmosphere we live in today. He states off the bat that he’s not a supporter, but he never excuses the opinions and ideas he had as a child. He never shies away from his past.

His honesty isn’t just reserved for remembrances of dictators. He vividly discusses what it feels like to be “lucky in the wrong way.” How he desperately wanted to fit in yet violently punished those who initially disliked him. He recounts being both tormentor and victim never eliciting sympathy or disdain. Instead, he accomplishes a remarkable intimacy. We grow to know him as a human being instead of as distant words on a page. We are taken by the hand and see reality through his eyes- and we are shocked by its candor. Louis Zamperini gives us a highly reflective window with his prose. One which sees him and his world while simultaneously showing us ourselves. His words act as a link to our mutual humanity. His honesty almost makes it tangible.

I really can’t wait to read more and see what other incredible, veritable, adventures lie in store for this remarkable man.