Megan McArdle on Michael Bellesiles’s latest mess:

I found it incredibly hard to believe that Michael Bellesiles had fabricated the story of “Ernesto”, a student whose brother had died in Iraq. And indeed, it turns out he didn’t. As I initially suspected, the student fabricated the story. Why? Who knows? A student at my high school fabricated an entire fake boyfriend who died horribly of cancer, stories she regaled her creative writing class with for months. And then the teacher called her mother to ask if there was anything she could do to help the student through this terrible tragedy . . .

I have nothing to add on Bellesiles, but I do have some insights on this comment.

When I was young, I used to make up stories. All kinds of stories. And I didn’t convey them as fiction. I mean, that’s true of a lot of kids. But it was especially true for me and my stories would be extremely elaborate. The really strange thing is that I still can’t pinpoint an exact motive. I mean sure, I told “the dog ate my homework” lies, but it went beyond that. They weren’t meant to get me out of trouble. They weren’t meant to make me look good (sometimes they made me look kinda bad). Nor were they entirely for attention as I did not particularly desire attention and I always felt kinds bad and on-the-spot when people would talk to me about something I made up. I kinda wanted to tell my story, have people interested in the duration of my story, then have people forget that the story was ever told. There may have been a desire to be interesting tucked in there somewhere, though contradictorily I would want them to forget what I was interesting because of.

Some of it can probably be attributed to my stellar imagination and the need to express it. It’s noteworthy that the lies stopped when the writing began in earnest, though that could have been a function of age as much as anything else. But if I really had to guess, I would guess it was that I would want the stories to be true because I like interesting things to be true. And on the wings of this desire, “wouldn’t it be interesting/neat if…” because “get a load of this…”.

Should I sire a child, this is one of those things that I am going to keep an eye out on. If my kid is a compulsive liar, I am not going to leap to the conclusion that I did something wrong or even that they’re hiding something. Rather, I am going to wonder if I have a little writer on my hands and dutifully explain the difference between “wouldn’t it be interesting if” and “is.”

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5 Responses to The Seeds of a Writer

  1. Bob V says:

    >A student at my high school fabricated an entire fake
    >boyfriend who died horribly of cancer

    Sorry to be trite, but this student needed more love. Attention-seeing is kin to love-seeking. It’s too bad these people chose ways that would inevitably leave them reviled.

  2. DaveinHackensack says:

    You just reminded me that I haven’t read McArdle’s blog in months. I guess I just went on living my life. But the quote from her reminds me of this: Canadian Girlfriend Unsubstantiated.

  3. Mike Hunt says:

    …Should I sire a child…

    I hate to break this to you, but Clancy didn’t marry you for your good looks or sparkling personality.

    She wants kids at some point.

  4. stone says:

    As an adult I consider storytelling lying a loathsome disease.

    But I do remember that as a high school freshman, I used to take the bus with an overweight Filipino girl, and we both made up boyfriends to tell each other stories about. It gave us something to chat about. How do I know she was making hers up? Well, the facts were absolutely preposterous. I considered my fake boyfriend much more realistic.

    We’re friends on Facebook now. We’re both married. Sometimes I wonder if she remembers.

  5. Abel says:

    Most of my writer friends (including myself) did simliar things. I think it’s the storyteller in us trying to get out.

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