Fiction is about telling lies. And no one minds. In fact, the better you tell the lie, the more your work will be liked. And bought.
But what about the stories authors tell when they’re trying to ‘sell’ what they’ve written? I’ve often been told that I needed to sell myself in order to sell my work. I’ve heard that you need a character, that you need a persona. I’ve known writers who have done this. I’ve seen them become successful. These authors know, and I’m sure most of their readers know, that their persona is not quite identical with their real day to day self. But everyone is enjoying it.
The closest I’ve come is putting on my hat and coat and strapping on my gunbelt for a few author/ interview photos. I can’t tell if it’s helped much, but I definitely had fun doing it. I also exaggerated certain elements of my memoir, Days of Beer, for humorous effect. I think it’s pretty easy to tell where the exaggerated elements are, and there’s not a scene in there that didn’t happen pretty much as I described it. This kind of thing strikes me as an agreement between the author and the readers to enhance the enjoyment for everyone.
But what about when writers exaggerate personal accomplishments in order to create a certain impression of themselves as an expert in a given field. Perhaps they exaggerate their academic credentials, or try to claim more ‘street cred’ for themselves than they in truth have earned. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen some erotica authors claim more sexual experience than is likely to be the case. I imagine some western authors have made claims about their western experiences that aren’t 100 percent true.
Of course, at the far end of the spectrum we have writers like James Frey, who appears to have told outright lies about his experiences in his book A Million Little Pieces. Then there’s Margaret Seltzer, Stephen Glass, and Greg Mortenson. Outright liars get found out, though it’s hard to say how much it hurts their sales.
But how much exaggeration does it take of one’s personal story to cross that line into lying? How much is OK and fun, and how much is misleading readers purely for profit or pride’s sake? I wonder about this at times. What do you think?