I woke up late today, after writing too late last night, and then had my entire day eaten in double-checking a story that proved to be a lie. Which struck me funny, in an odd sidelong way, because I’d been up late the night before lying my head off.
All novelists are liars. Of course. So how is a novel different from a garden-variety prevarication?
It’s truthful. “Once upon a time” is a mask; once under its shelter, we can speak the truth that we can’t in full sunlight. In the fictional town of N–, beloved of Russian novelists, we can tell the dirty secrets of our own home town.
It’s consistent. Nine times out of ten, I catch a lie by means of internal contradiction, which is to say, a failure of craft on the part of the liar.
It has its own agenda. Liars lie to get something, or get back at someone. Their lies are weapons seized randomly, in the dark, and slashed about to catch hapless shins or skulls. A novelist might have a list of targets–all of us do (ask me about “Anne-Marie Writes a Memo,” dedicated to one of my least favorite ex-workmates, may she fry in hell)–but a novel has its own shape, and the good novelist is ready to drop one assassination target off the list to substitute another.
(Yes, and I have a love of violent metaphors. That comes of dealing with lying liars who lie.)