Chocolate Bars and Storytelling [Single White Nerd]
Today, a confession: I’m a liar. A big fat story-maker-upper. Last week, I stood in front of about 100 people at The Moth, a venue where people stand up and tell “true” stories, and spun a tale of love unfulfilled. It moved people. Someone may have cried. But the story. . .it wasn’t true. Well, part of it was. Most of it was. But still, I’m the liariest liar in liar-town.
It’s best to get this liaresque confession out of the way now before I publish a book of personal essays or something that people assume are true. And then they find out that they’re not wholly true and I have to go on Oprah, or whatever replaces Oprah, and get spanked in front of an audience of millions who feel personally betrayed by my prevarication. Oh, I can see it now. “What do you have to say to the millions who believed you” the host will say, staring at me sternly.
I’ll turn to the millions, stare straight into the camera, and say: “I have a confession. Part of those stories are not true. And that’s fine. Because they’re STORIES.”
Anytime you set something down on paper or use words, or any medium really, to relate a set of events, you are telling a story. Unless you’re a journalist, your primary if not only duty is to engage the audience’s imaginations to convey the essence of truth in that story. If you have to stretch parts of the story, add a little spice to cast certain elements into relief, well, that’s fine. By definition, not even “memoirs” are under any obligation to be completely true. A memoir is simply a narrative composed from personal experience (according to Merriam Webster). And can one ever really know the full truth of personal experience? (take a moment here to imagine that I am raising my eyebrow at you and possibly smoking a cigarette while wearing a beret. In France.)
Whatever. I’m in the process of developing what I call the Chocolate Bar Theory of Story-Telling. Y’know how on fancy chocolate bars, they have the percent chocolate in the bar? 85 percent chocolate is super dark, fairly bitter stuff. 20 percent chocolate is probably something like Hershey’s, containing all sorts of additives to make it sickly sweet. You never really see 100 percent chocolate. Because that would be gross. Chocolate becomes delicious through the conscientious application of the chocolatier’s art–adding a little here, hiding a little there. Nobody gets pissed at the chocolatier for presenting chocolate that is less that 100% pure.
Stories are like chocolate–you have to massage them, add a little oomph, reshape the molecules. And maybe they should, like chocolate, be packaged with a note saying what percent of the story is true. Until that happens, I’ll continue to practice my art, such as it is, to convey truth through the judicious use of untruth. And if that makes me a liar, I’ll feel bad for a moment and then eat a chocolate bar. 85 percent pure. Because it’s tasty.
P.S.: If you’re interested, here’s a link to the story I told last week that, in combination with the recent Greg Mortenson kerfluffle, prompted this preemptive confession. It’s 85% true. Can you spot the pernicious 15 percent? If you have a moment, leave your best guess in the comments. The winner gets a chocolate bar.