Lying to be Liked

I wrote a short story about a hill-monster trying to survive in a city. The heart of the story is the fine line between wanting someone and wanting to eat someone. A lot of YA romance is from the prey’s perspective, so I wrote from the predator’s perspective. I read this story aloud for two audiences. The first audience loved it.

“I had chills.”
“It’s brilliant. It’s ready [to submit].”

The second audience hated it.

“Totally unrelatable. She’s like a vampire-bat, there’s nothing human to latch onto.”
“Oh, you suck. You are just awful. Can’t you just kill the guy already? Or better yet, they should come to an arrangement, have sex, and then she kills him by accident.”

The trouble with this story is that while the context was different, the interactions and reactions were 100% true. They happened. I wrote what I knew (like we’re supposed to). Most of my writing is fake. Fake characters and fake situations that remain self-contained in separate worlds. The fake stuff — the lies — are what most people relate to.

It’s interesting that first-person is so popular, and yet we have no interest in memoir.

I’m finding more evidence of this in daily life. I’m not Christian. I don’t celebrate Christmas. For years, the question “how was your Christmas,” seemed like a great opportunity to tell people about the Solstice — but now I know, in my heart, that there’s no room for truth in small-talk. In order to be liked, in order to be relatable, I have to give the shortest and most non-descript answer I can manage. Great, how was yours. Fine, what did you do — and it hurts my heart every time. I am lying. I am dedicating energy to lying.

I still use the bag I got at the monastery. In public, Chinese people stare at the logo, read the words, quirk a brow, and then stare at me. Or they talk to each other and point. No one talks to me about it. Chinese-Americans, and most other Americans for that matter, find the Wu-Tang Clan to be the only common ground and leave it at that. Wu-Tang got their name from a kung-fu flick about Wudang… so that’s the connection. The cool shit I did is totally irrelevant. It doesn’t matter because it’s not relatable.

When I saw Chuck Palahniuk at the Castro theater last year, he said that he tests out story ideas at parties. He’s not looking for anecdotes that shut the conversation down. He knows he’s got a winner when the person he’s talking to responds with a similar story. Oh my God, that’s just like the time I…!

Most of what I say shuts the conversation down, and it’s only getting worse.

I beta-read a YA novel starring a teenage girl. Everything was written in first-person POV, so there was no escape from her whiny emotional whiplash. It was awful. I wanted to beat the shit out of the main character. When I brought this up to the author, he said that no one else in his critique group had a problem with her voice. I guess I was wrong.

Even my mom once told me people don’t like the things you like.

So what do we do in our stories and our lives —  go along to get along, or be true to your oddities?

Before you answer, which path have you already chosen?

Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.
― Albert Camus

Never attempt to win by force what can be won by deception.”
― Niccolò Machiavelli

Face spells “Liar.”


11 thoughts on “Lying to be Liked

  1. Kira Lyn Blue

    I say be true to your oddities. You did have an audience that responded positively to your “true” story. They’re your target audience not the group that hated it. While what interests you may not be what most people like, I doubt you’re alone in what you do like and there will be people who will appreciate your writing and cheer because it’s what they’ve been looking for.

      1. REDdog

        You honour me, for that I esteem your beautiful mind for the breadth of it’s ruminations and the depth of it’s perceptions. LLH&R

  2. woodlandwhimsy

    I stay true to my weirdness. I have had people ask me why I don’t sculpt people. Tell me that I’d make a lot of money if I sculpted replicas of people’s pets. Had them say I am deranged. I still do what I do. There are many, many people who don’t get it, but enough do. I think if you try and fake your art, it turns out stilted and artificial. I think you have to love what you are doing to create something fabulous.

    1. Setsu Post author

      I don’t think anyone in the world could make the little creatures you make. Bending your mind to pets seems like it would be an injustice, somehow.

      Do you wear the fact of your art on your sleeve, or save it for people you think might engage with you on that level?

  3. Laura

    I think I vacillate – I totally ‘lie’ to be liked, but I’m also pretty out about what rings true to me. It depends on who I’m with, I guess.
    Some of the YA fiction that’s out there is complete drivel!!! Makes me roll my eyes and wonder how they got published. (I wonder if some of those other beta-readers lied to be liked…. )

    1. Setsu Post author

      Hah! It takes a special kind of friendship for someone to look you in the eye and say, “what the fuck were you thinking? Fix this right now.”

  4. CarrieS

    This was an interesting post, I thought about it for a long time. There’s two things you might be missing. One is that, as Kira pointed out, your first group loved your story. You have an audience – it’s just not that everyone is in it. Heck, look at the Twilight books – Meyers made bucks of many form that series and it’s fans adore it, and it makes me want to set fire to my own house out of rage. And Meyers is fine with that, because she knows she has an audience, even given all the Twilight haters out there. That’s an extreme example, but it’s true with most art. If everyone hates it, well, maybe you should take another look at it. But everyone DIDN’T hate it.

    The second thing is that small talk doesn’t have to mean lying unless you consider lying to do anything other than revealing everything all at once. A way to be honest and still keep the conversation “small” might be to respond to “How was your Christmas” with “I celebrate Solistice, and it was great – went to the beach, saw the sun rise. How was your Christmas?” If they respond with questions about Solstice, go deeper, if not, you’ve been honest about what you do without overwhelming your audience.

    But those are details. The harder question, the big one you raise, is whether all small talk is a lie because anything other than a revelation of our deepest thoughts and feelings is a lie. So that’s what I’ve been thinking about. Most common lie: “Oh, I’m OK”. Next up: “No, I don’t mind”.

    As far as being true to your oddities, aren’t your oddities, your uniqueness, the reason you have blog readers and friends? I met you at a convention where you had a teacup on your belt – that’s odd. But all of us at those conventions are odd. You like Elfquest and Riddick, right? Some people like the things you like – there was a whole hotel full of them that weekend.We like it that way and we like each other that way. So I’d say that practicing social cues is never a bad thing , but it doesn’t mean you have to hide your oddities either. That would be the biggest lie.

  5. Pingback: What you know is only the beginning | KatanaPen

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