“Fiction is the truth inside the lie.”
— Stephen King
When people ask me why I write, I often tell them it’s because I like to make things up, and that fiction writers are the only people I know who lie and (sometimes) get paid for it.
Since I first learned to string sentences together I’ve exaggerated stories to make them more interesting and to get bigger reactions out of my listeners. But while it’s cute at four to claim that your lost book got stolen by a monster who eats paper for breakfast, by eight or nine, unfair as it might be, you can’t get away with that sort of creativity. Not that I quit trying. It just didn’t go over very well anymore.
Then I started reading and I realized that writers were allowed to tell the kinds of stories I liked to tell, full of pretend people doing things that didn’t really happen. They made stuff up, fun interesting stuff nobody expected to be true. Once I figured that out, I knew I had to be a writer.
As a kid my daughter Allison had an imaginary friend who hung around much longer than most imaginary friends do, probably because Ali had created such a complex and detailed life for her that she became real to my daughter. She couldn’t quit believing in Mary Camelson. She actually had to kill her off to get rid of her, so one day Mary was run over by a car. I think I mourned her loss longer than Ali.
That’s what being a writer means to me. Believing in the fictitious so completely that it becomes true. Wanting to know what the story means, how it ends, and what happens to those made up but very real characters. Working to get at the truth inside the lies, as Steven King said.
And of course the best part is I get to have all the imaginary friends I want. And nobody can call me a liar when I make up stories about them.