Liars & Fabulists

We all embellish personal stories. Sometimes we do it to be funny. I know that when I tell the story of my final “protest” at P.S. (NYC Public School) 94, in Queens (vomiting on my teacher’s shoes because I couldn’t speak my mind) I play it for laughs. But back when I was five, it was a cry for freedom and justice against a rigid, fascist regime (the crazy school).

Other people embellish with heroic additions transforming themselves from the guy who phoned the fire fighters to the one that went back into the burning building to save a mother cat and five kittens. In most contexts, these fabulous “rewrites” are OK. It doesn’t matter if Grandpa really ran with the bulls in Spain or if Grandma went on a date with the dashing young Senator John Kennedy right before he met Jackie. The “fabulists” among us are often charming.

Telling a story the same way every time is very unusual. Our brains naturally massage it, editing and adding, to make it “better” with each telling. I have two friends that manage to tell old stories the same way each time. It’s unusual and I notice this because…. Well, because I’m a writer and it’s in my nature to notice HOW a story is repeated. So when my friend tells the same story with the same words, I take note. It’s interesting —to me. Maybe not to anyone else?

Today I’m pondering the rewrite of a fabulist morphs into a lie.

Brian Williams, a respected network news anchor, (Monster fans outside the U.S. bear with me, he’s important here in the States) has given us all a fabulous example of when the altered story comes back to bite the butt of the speaker and he becomes a LIAR! His career is on the ropes and he may never regain the credibility he had before he repeated a war story that was not his to tell.

I’m following his saga as it progresses. It’s fascinating and I’m very happy to be a fiction writer. My rewrites make the story better —and don’t make the writer worse.


  1. I love embellishments but downright lies always carry the danger of coming back to bite you from behind. Rightly so in this case if the man has been paid to do a job but invents rather than reports. That’s fraud and not done for the sake of entertainment where it would be forgiven.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • Candy Korman

      Because of who is he, it’s front page news in the States and everyone is now wondering about other stories he’s told. Is he a fabulist? Does the telling, and retelling, of the more heroic, more dramatic, more interesting version of the story mean that he truly mis-remembers it? Perhaps?

      What does that mean for his credibility as a news anchor? That’s the biggest question.

      I’m following the story and will post about false memories on Monday. Fascinating subject!

  2. We’ve been hearing about that story Downunder as well, and I’m with David – he went beyond fabulist to liar. Or perhaps the network he worked for decided that making it seem as if he was right there, on the spot, would make a better story. Either way, we should be able to expect a degree of truth from those reporting the news.

    • Candy Korman

      Yes, it doesn’t matter if your grandmother makes her story better but a newsman… well, the news is supposed to be real.

      Even when they are trying to get it right, it’s often wrong. The “first draft” of history has many mistakes. A couple of years ago when there was that terrible school shooting in an elementary school, the early reporting said the shooter’s mother (his first victim) used to teach at that school. The speculation about her was outrageous and she never taught there. His brother’s name was also confused with his and a perfectly innocent man was targeted as the killer in the media.

      The new take on Brian Williams is that his media personality was too good, too much fun, too exciting and funny. One of the best comedy shows (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart) where Brian Williams had appeared many times, made a joke out of the directions a news reporter faces. Straight out at the camera — truth/reality. To the side, like on a talk show, theatrical/embellished/fake.

      Oh, well… I’m glad I write fiction.

  3. This brings to mind an exercise I would do with students when we a group would retell the story of the same event and inevitably end up with some very different renderings. Or one of my creative nonfiction professors would ask us if it mattered if an author made their childhood barn blue rather than red if it served a greater purpose in the narrative.

    • Candy Korman

      Today, I’m following up with a similar theme —False Memories.
      We conflate, we confuse, we jumble, we also make things up and believe them AND memories can be “manufactured.”

      I think I’d have liked your professor and, having never taken a creative nonfiction (or fiction) writing class, maybe I should have signed up on college. Might have been very inspiring? Yes… I think so…

  4. I’ve always loved a good embellishment, which is probably why I am not a non fiction writer most of the time. As my wife calls it, I stay up late at night telling lies for fun and profit.