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.