Thursday, June 27, 2013

I cannot tell a lie - but I've got lots of stories that aren't strictly true

Inspired by the late True Stories Told Live, advertising man Mark Waites has started a project called Supposed Histories in which people are encouraged to tell stories about themselves that aren't true. They do it on video here.

He asked me if I could do one. I don't think I could. I could never do those story-writing projects at school where you were encouraged to "let your imagination run wild". This results in the sort of writing that starts with an elaborate set-up, wanders a bit and then lurches to an end with "and then I woke up".

One of the advantages of True Stories being true is that people have taken them to heart and can tell them clearly and directly. They may well have been finessed or condensed in order to make them work better as stories but they are essentially true and what matters even more is the person telling them believes they are true. According to Garry Wills's Ronald Reagan biography the great communicator had spent so much of the war making propaganda films that he had come to believe that he had taken part in some of the events they depicted.

One of our True Stories turns, a journalist, said "if they're stories they're not true and if they're true they're not stories". I knew what he was getting at but I disagree. Just because something isn't strictly true doesn't make it a lie.

In fact if I was asked to tell a story that wasn't true I would be trying so hard to avoid anything that had ever formed part of my experience that I would end up with a hollow fantasy and it would probably end with "and then I woke up".


  1. I think that all stories have an element of, if not untruths then point of view. Whenever two people meet their memory of a meeting depends on their own point of view. I might tell the story of how the other person and I got on like a house on fire, they might say how irritating they found me.

  2. I use to attend social gatherings with an elderly gentleman called John.

    He was a rather mischievous fellow.
    Wherever we went he would invariably introduce me to someone there as an undertaker/elephant trainer/national hopscotch champion, etc. I would carry on from this, describing the absurd details of my made-up profession.

    I only got called-out once, not because I was a terribly good liar, but because people are generally polite and want to believe that a man can make a modest living from competitive Hopscotch.

    Conversely, some of my best travel stories, some of which (such as the time I got sexually molested in Tarapith) are bizarre, but true, are usually dismissed as outright fantasy.

  3. "Stories happen to those that can tell them."