Lies Encouraged Here

Monday, May 10, 2010

I recently listened to a speaker practice for a tall tales contest using a story from her own life. Tall tales (as in Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox) thrive on exaggeration, but this was an ordinary story with no embellishment. Although the way she told it made it interesting, it was not a tall tale.

Novice writers often write about their own experiences but change the names and call their stories "fiction." Members of my writers' critique group would suggest changing the facts to make the action more compelling. The usual response? "It didn't happen that way."

Calling a story a tall tale or fiction makes it okay to change the facts. So get a little creative, folks.

I'm not suggesting that a writer take a recognizable person and give him or her traits that could hurt the real person's reputation. Just changing someone's name and labeling the story "fiction" isn't enough to protect a writer from a defamation lawsuit. But changing events and adding new characters are all part of what makes fiction fiction.

I've known for years that the Little House books are only loosely based on Laura Ingalls Wilder's life, but I didn't know the first two are out of order. I discovered that only recently while researching a road trip.

The first book, Little House in the Big Woods, is set in the woods of Wisconsin when Laura is about four and her sister Carrie is a baby. That fits. Laura did live in the woods near Pepin, Wisconsin at that age, and Carrie was born when Laura was three.

But the second book, Little House on the Prairie, has a slightly older Laura on her way to and then living in Kansas Territory, and Carrie is with them when they leave Wisconsin. In real life, the Ingalls family made the trip from Pepin to Kansas Territory when Laura was two and moved back to Pepin when she was four, and Carrie was born in Kansas. So these books are not in the same order as Laura's real life.

Laura altered her life's chronology for her first two children's novels, and she probably changed other facts, too. But that's okay, because even though it's common knowledge that Laura based the Little House books on her life (and even used real names for her family), the series is labeled and sold as fiction.

So here's my message to all tall tale tellers and novice fiction writers: if lies make your story better, use them. Because they aren't really lies when it's fiction.


Caroline said...

Super post. You do these so good. Interesting.

Project Journal said...

LOVE, LOVE, LOVE the Little House books!! You just made my day, you have no idea ; )

Love the new blog layout. Wow!! Fantastic : )

Kathryn Page Camp said...


If you like the Little House books, stay tuned.

Project Journal said...

Oh boy! I have NO CLUE what that's supposed to mean....

; )


Linda Glaz said...

Have read the series so many times,I had to replace the books. Learned how to use the green pumpkins that never ripened. "Apple" pie. And it was delicious. Also learned how to treat plants hit by frost and not lose them. This series whether factual or fictitious has been a staple for me for decades and I still enjoy them. The sign of a good book!

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