Do Authors Tell Stories Or Lies?

You can trust me. I promise.

You can trust me. I promise.

A friend of mine is a teacher for a private enrichment company, and one night, she had a student who was determined to argue. Whatever the topic, he could find something wrong with it. When they got to fiction, he pretended to be horrified, saying that fiction is a lie (and, therefore, morally wrong). It was obvious that he was deliberately blowing it out of proportion, but sometimes, people do talk about fiction as a lie.

I don’t agree because a lie is trying to convince someone that a falsehood is true. Fiction is not doing that. In fact, telling someone that a work of fiction is nonfiction could get you in big trouble (of the legal or generally bad for your future variety). That means that although fiction is not true, it is not a lie because it is not trying to deceive.

Except, perhaps, for horror.

When I read this quote by Stephen King, I realized that you could say that horror tries to deceive, if only for a little while, because it can’t frighten you if you don’t believe. But I’m not sold on that either. Even in horror, the author is not saying that the story is true. Horror is still sold as fiction, and the reader knows going in that it is made-up.

That’s when I realized that the only people lying are the readers: as readers, we lie to ourselves. We go in knowing that the story is not true, yet we choose to believe it (if only for as long as we read). Or more accurately, we allow a small self-deception by choosing not to disbelieve. It’s our choice – and that’s why it’s called “the willing suspension of disbelief.”

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