Writers on Training Wheels

Hillary Illick writes about the blurry spaces she inhabited during her childhood, where the boundaries between fact and fiction were permeable:

As a girl, in school, I got in trouble quite a few times for insisting something happened that in fact did not. I wasn’t lying. I was clinging to the images in my mind that I experienced as true, even though it turned out more than once they were not.

She could have been talking about me! I too was a habitual creator of tales, connecting the dots when that seemed to be called for, glossing blithely over the small matter of an immutable reality that others seemed to take for granted.

All children lie in small and large ways.

As do adults, let’s face it, often for survival or self-preservation. Or sometimes just from habit.

But that wasn’t the kind of lie I used to tell. I’d simply make up endings for real events. If something happened that seemed inconclusive to me, I’d fill in an ending and narrate it glibly to others. When the neighbor’s dog ran away, I said I’d seen it down the road, running into the park. In a way, I had. We’d passed the park that day. I’d seen a dog running in. Was it the neighbor’s dog? Maybe not, but it felt satisfying to connect those dots. The neighbor searched up that road, turned up nothing. After much questioning, when it became clear that I’d simply suggested the park as a possibility, not the clear scene I’d painted, I found myself in trouble.

Not all childhood lying, of course, is imaginative play.

L1070666.jpgBut neither are all childhood fibs morally reprehensible. And at some point, assuming we’re not destined for a life of crime, we all come up against a boundary beyond which truth cannot be distorted for any real-life reason.

But fiction–that’s different. Sometimes I wonder if that trait of mine, practiced mostly in secret once I learned it wasn’t appreciated, was nothing but rehearsal, years in advance, for the kind of plotting (cause and effect, scene and sequel) required while writing fiction.

As I recall, that dog did wander back home, or did it? It’s entirely possible I made up that part.


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