TED Conversations

Cedric Mayen

Script writer, Editions Delcourt

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Do you have to be a good liar to be a good storyteller?

What is the main difference between a lie and a fictional story? aren't they quite the same thing? Are novel writers basically mass-liars? What are the basics of lying that you can also find in story-telling?
I'm writing a novel based on a character who lies to everyone about his life, a con-artist who decides after a shock to stop lying and starts to write a fictional book because he desperately needs to lie to feel alive, but he's stuck with writer-block syndrom.
If you can help me answering these questions it will help me a lot.
BTW I'm french so, I'm sorry if sometimes my english is bad.


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    Sep 9 2013: With my naive understanding Story Telling is an art with which the teller just tells the story for her/his joy without specific target of being materially benefited out of it. Where is lying is done for one's own benefit. More in lying there may or mayn't be any story.

    In story telling the artist uses imagination to catch the attention of audience. Lying is nothing but twisting or changing the real fact ....very little space of imagination.
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      Sep 10 2013: Salim, it took all of my imagination at that time when I was trying to make up a good story for my teacher, why I didn't make my homework. And doing this for the second day of a row, it became almost impossible not to involve extraterrestrial beings who lifted me off my desk and against my will ... :o)

      This is another yet 'officially denied' way of strict teachers to 'inspire' their students imagination ..., but imagination its is ... :o)
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        Sep 10 2013: touché!!!

        So, can we say that the motive behind the lying, and the frequency with which the individual must lie, might determine how much imagination is required?

        What say ye?
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          Sep 10 2013: 'Ye' got somewhat stuck on the 'must' in your proposal ... :o)

          But lets assume there was a situation in which an individual 'must' continue to lie, maybe to protect the well being of others, it would certainly determine the amount of imagination which was to be put in this.

          And not only imagination was required, but also an accordingly increasing effort for the 'plausibility check' for consistency.

          Becoming a good liar means to use the 'dark side' of empathy, training ones memory even for the slightest detail and to know and to master the tricky sides of ones own body language, as well as to gain as much emotional distance to the act of lying itself.

          'Cold blood' liars with an 'photographic memory' for imaginative pictures and a vivid imagination are the worst to spot.

          But I also came across a certain breed once, which managed to use me against myself for their dishonesty while reducing the need for their own imagination to almost zero, by using just mine... In retrospect, that certainly was nothing but master-class on a blood temperature, which chills me still ... :o)
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          Sep 10 2013: Lejan, wouldn't a good story exploit the "Dark side " of empathy as well? Let's take "Fight Club" as an example. This book triggers all the male low instincts (deceiving dying people, using a lost woman, fighting til blood spilling, starting a revolution). I'm not sure that in literature, the writers always try to use good sentiments. Other examples "I spit on your graves" from Boris Vian or "The Stranger" from Albert Camus
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        Sep 10 2013: "I've got chills too from reading your last paragraph........Yikes!!!"

        So, Lejan, in what field of work do you think the best 'professional liars' exist in? If I may be so bold as to ask your opinion on this? And, do you think that there is a particular personality type that lies more than others?

        I hope you take a stab at answering my questions with a spirit of furthering along Cedric's research ;)

        [I'm printing out the screen shot too.......LOL]
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          Sep 10 2013: Thank you Mary for pushing the understanding, that really helps me
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          Sep 10 2013: The field of work of the best professional liars I am unable to name by definition, as those are the best, I am not aware that I am lied at. :o)

          Is goes a bit like this funny question: 'What country has the worlds best intelligence service? Well, Denmark has, or have you ever heard of theirs?' ... ;o)

          Yet for numerous, potential and talented candidates the following come to my mind:

          Politics (politicians, diplomats, secret agents, etc.), Business (ceo's, cfo's, sales, pr specialists, etc.), Financial (banksters, consultants, 'specialists', etc.), Media (tycoons, reporter, freelancer, etc.), Red-light milieu (prostitutes, call girls/boys, pimps, etc.), Science (dishonest scientists, forger, faked experts reports, etc.)

          This list isn't complete and not meant as blanket condemnation, as this wouldn't satisfy the fact, that in all of this fields are many honest individuals behaving in best integrity.

          By assuming, that Cedric's experience doesn't differ much from mine, I am afraid that this my spirit doesn't offer anything new to him ... :o)

          But maybe this is new: I always had problems in understanding the term of 'professionalism', which somehow tries to describe some sort of 'split personality', by which an individual separates its 'private self' from its 'working self', which stays mysterious to in many aspects, as I consider an individual by its general 'potentials'. By this I mean, that I do not belief, that a 'professional liar' in his working environment suddenly changes personality the moment 'after official hours' begins. And vice versa. Dishonesty, in whatever degree, is a personal trait, not absolute though, yet also not quickly switchable ...

          So far I came across a certain 'personality type' who didn't care much about honesty and without exception this type was highly career oriented and as much competitive about it to get into leading positions. Usually great 'communicators' and 'net-workers' but for their own goals exclusively.
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          Sep 10 2013: And Mary, no need to be bold to ask me anything ..., well, almost ... ;o), as I hope my answers won't compromise you personally.
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        Sep 10 2013: I agree with you, Lejan, that there is a consistency in people's personalities- that strong traits do not shut on and off. But I think people do choose sometimes to "act" in one situation and to be genuine in another.

        I have definitely known dishonest people with no career or career ambition at all.
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          Sep 10 2013: I understand your point, Fritzie, but can we always draw the line in between us acting and being genuine? Isn't this a constant sliding on scales of gray and less of a 'digital' state of being?

          Isn't this 'acting' part of us not often misused to excuse avoiding personal realization?

          This is why I rather think of 'potentials', because I think we could not act in any way which was completely alien to our personality. Therefore I consider 'acting' as a form of 'amplification' only, which, according to personal talent, more or less successful create the illusion of 'true' authenticity.

          The fact, that it is no rarity at acting schools for students to experience unexpected nervous breakdowns within certain scenes they play, may gives us some hints of how interwoven in between those two terms our personalties can be.

          I always wondered, how it is possible for individuals to be, lets say, a cruel prison camp officer during duty hours to return home while transforming into a loving spouse and parent to his/her children.

          Acting alone couldn't be enough for me to explain the magnitude of this change, as I consider acting as a conscious state of the mind.

          On this chosen example it is known, that it is based on 'devaluation' and the transformation of 'subjects' to the level of 'objects'. If acting alone would have the transformational power of this depth of self-deception, I have my doubts.

          I have met 'non-career' yet dishonest people as well, but I choose for my example by the average numbers of victims both types usually produce ...
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          Sep 11 2013: Fritzie and Lejan,
          When we consider part of the meaning of "genuine" (produced by or proceeding from the alleged source or author) then we are always being genuine, are we not?

          As multi sensory, multi dimensional humans, we have many choices regarding how we will "be" in any given situation. We have archetypes, personas, characteristics, and when we are aware of this in our "self", we use different characteristics, depending on the circumstances...depending on how well we "know" ourselves. I agree Lejan, that there is something like a "sliding scale of gray".

          When one lies, s/he is genuinely lying, and that is the characteristic/persona s/he chooses in that moment. I agree that we generally cannot act/behave in a way that is completely alien to our personality. If it was totally alien to our personality, we would not know how to do it!

          Lejan, you mention situations where actors cannot play a scene. I had this experience with a play years ago. In the play, my son was killed, and I performed a very wrenching monologue after his funeral. During rehearsals, the director kept telling me that I was not quite connecting with the scene, and I couldn't figure out what she was talking about because I felt like I was genuinely feeling the sorrow/sadness by imagining how I might feel if my son was actually killed.

          When I watched a rehearsal video, I understood what she was talking about, and I realized that I would not go to the depth of feeling that I may actually experience if my real son died. The performance was ok, got good reviews and all that, but I never reached the level of sorrow that might have been experienced with the actual death of my son. I simply would not go to that place in myself that seemed so very painful.

          In order to "act" a part, or behave in a certain way, we need to "feel" it on different conscious, or unconscious levels. For example, I do not "act" the same when chairing a meeting, as I do when participating in sports with friends.
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          Sep 11 2013: Hi Colleen,

          you are right in what you say about 'being genuine', yet my understanding of the term 'genuine' Fritzie used and the context he used it in, translated to me into being 'authentic'.

          'Authenticity' in my understanding is the 'internal distance' of a current 'state of being' I am in, compared to a self-centered, undisturbed 'passive' state, in which I am not interacting with other beings and in which I am of 'neutral mind'. So neither happy, nor sad nor 'acting' in any degree. A 'resting point', if you will, in which 'resting' and 'passive' doesn't mean to be 'frozen' or 'paralyzed' in this state. This state isn't absolute and does change over time (age), yet not as quick, so that for comparison reasons it is precise enough to consider it 'quasi static' to 'measure' this 'inner distance' against.

          From there it now depends on the individual who 'walks in' this, my 'resting state' to determine the level of me 'acting' while 'interacting' with this individual.

          In this, people I don't like will cause the highest 'inner distance' towards my resting point and people I like will create 'short distances'. People I love, create none.

          How would you 'act' while chairing a meeting with friends? Also in terms of 'seriousness' and 'discipline'?

          In business, those situations often turn difficult for none 'natural leaders' who happen to be promoted and became superior towards their former colleges and friends.

          Provided we have no split personality, isn't us 'being genuine' not also to be 'the actor' and 'the director' at the same time? Isn't this, our director nothing but our 'superego'? This point of internal reference and internal judgment of our own actions (acting) and source of our individual moral? This inner 'resting point'?

          Could we become friends with someone whose 'individual moral' doesn't fit ours or be compatible with it in 'necessary' portions? I couldn't, as high 'inner distances' doesn't feel comfortable and 'acting' is exhausting ... :o)
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          Sep 11 2013: Lejan,
          You ask..."How would you 'act' while chairing a meeting with friends? Also in terms of 'seriousness' and 'discipline'?

          While chairing a meeting, yes, I connect with my more serious, disciplined, focused persona. While participating in sport activities, I may choose to connect with my more playful persona:>)

          I agree that we can be the actor, director, producer, choreographer of our behaviors all at the same time. It is all part of a genuine, authentic "me".

          Why do you say the director is the superego? To me, directing my life experience is simply making choices which benefit learning and growth as an individual, while contributing to the whole.

          You say acting is exhausting, and when we think of acting only in reference to performing on stage, it can be exhausting, because we may be drawing on emotions which may not be part of our regular, normal persona. We may be drawing on emotions/behaviors that we prefer not to use in our everyday lives.
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          Sep 12 2013: Colleen,

          some of my assumptions are probably wrong ...
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          Sep 12 2013: One day without computer and I miss this interesting discussion. I like how you connect acting as a genuine type of lying. In the process of writing, acting is the most difficult thing to imagine. When you write a character, you give him a past, experiences that are not shown in the book but are part of the way the character reacts to situations.
          But how does a character acts? What does he find in himself to play someone else... let's call it the "inception syndrome". It's one of the subject of the book I'm currently finishing to write. Some young people discover an old abandoned theater and make it their HQ. In the theater they forget their former self to become a character, but soon they lose themselves and become empty. I will pass on the evil spirit that lies under the theater and toy with them, to keep on this simple idea: Acting, as a kind of lie, empty yourself of you true self, and it's hard not to get eaten by the character your playing. Many actors feel it hard to leave a character they really enjoyed playing, and those characters are mainly evil or twisted.
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          Sep 12 2013: Lejan,
          I honestly do not perceive assumptions as right or wrong. I believe we all make assumptions based on information we have at any given time. The information we have, which is often based on our individual experiences, may be different. That is neither a lie or storytelling. It is what I believe to be truth:>)

          Welcome back.....missed you:>)

          To me, acting and writing seem similar, although, as I said, I have never written a book! In my experience with acting, and I think this is true of most actors, we explore a characters past experiences that may not be shown in the play, for the purpose of understanding and "building" the character. The more we know about the character, the better able we are to express the character in a believable way.

          Cedric, you ask..."what does he find in himself to play someone else...?"

          As humans, we all share many of the same emotions, and most of us have experienced many of these emotions in our life experience. The character is in pain.....we connect with something that has caused pain in our lives. The character is joyful.....we connect with something that creates joy in our lives.

          I do not agree that it is an empting of oneself, because the process (for me anyway) is basically the same as compassion and empathy, which I learned more about with the acting experience. It is putting oneself in the shoes of another character, so to speak....feeling what that person may feel....reacting as that person may react.

          I suggest that the reason actors sometimes are so engaged with the character, is because we are connecting on a very deep level with the character by drawing on our own experiences. I haven't ever played the part of an evil/twisted character, and I don't know any other actors who wished to hang onto an evil twisted persona after the play ended.
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        Sep 10 2013: I was thinking of the many cases is which the victims of abusive spouses have a hard time getting people to believe that such a nice, upstanding pillar of the community was abusive at home.

        Some people's antagonism is selective, or they focus all their aggression on one target, which leaves that aspect of themselves satisfied.
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          Sep 10 2013: The people you describe having such 'hard times' are either absolutely lucky in their lives or pretending 'worldly innocence' on purpose... I always wondered how may politicians got away with those election-time 'happy family' stories ... :o)

          And selective targeting in my view is neither cause nor explanation for a given 'potential', its just its outlet ...

          Difficult we are for sure... :o)
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        Sep 10 2013: Lejan, thanks for indulging me :)

        I enjoyed reading your point of view.

        You state....."Dishonesty, in whatever degree, is a personal trait, not absolute though, yet also not quickly switchable ..."

        Do you mean that a person who makes a habit of lying, lies all the time, that it is so ingrained in them that they may have a difficult time turning the lying switch off?

        I have found that those in the fields of 'selling' are more prone to lying ("exaggerating truths".. let me soften the blow a little with a bit of politically correct rhetoric)........also those whose income is dependent on commissions.......but that's just me.

        I also think that when a person discovers they are good at getting away with a lie, they may feel empowered by it, and may very well make it a habit..........not because they are bad individuals, but because they have that mental inclination..........lying for the thrill of it.

        What do you think about this?

        BTW.....your answer has not compromised me..........I think? Ha!!
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          Sep 10 2013: Mary, the only reason I am indulging you is to get you to the point to finally admit of being compromised ... like sweet little droplets to a sticky honey-pot... and because I am beyond any shadow of doubt, anything you say from there can and will be used against you ... ;o)

          Well, when if not right now have I ever lost allowance in paradise ... :o)

          What I meant by 'dishonesty as a trait' was, that lying is somewhat comparable to me to corruption. Its a bit like the 'bursting of a dam', because once someone sold his conscience for money, it becomes very difficult to restore ones 'internal integrity' from there.

          I also think, that humans have a natural tendency to go the 'way of least resistance', as it usually helps to life a more comfortable life, which is often desired by us.

          If this my assumption is true, 'getting away' with something by using a lie would therefore help to reduce this sort of 'resistance' and could lead to this 'lying for the thrill of it', which you described.

          So if we get used to those 'sweet little lies' if nothing of importance is at stake, it may become even more difficult the moment it is of importance.

          Let me give you a personal example:

          I prepared myself for the final exam in English at high school by using a cheat sheet, written on a sticky-note, which I stuck on the inside of the cardigan I was wearing that day. Not the most creative way, I agree, but also not fool-proof as I was about to learn ...

          During this test I needed to look up a word which I didn't know and for this we were allowed to use an English/English dictionary, which was placed on the teachers desk. What I didn't noticed was, that my cheat sheet fell loose and under the desk of another student...

          Till this very day I am undecided if I would have admitted to be the source of that sticky-note, as it was my very last trial to pass this test without I would not have graduated.

          I was lucky the teacher trusted the suspected student and let things slide from there.
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          Sep 10 2013: A lesson in shame for me, which certainly influenced my personal standing on this matter today.

          Yet the fact, that I am still undecided if I would have had 'the guts' if something of 'personal importance' is at stake, perpetuates this aspect of my self-doubt.

          What is beautiful to read in 'exaggerating truths' is our wish for self-deception by the reinterpretation of words ... :o) It does work as long as we stay away of deeper reflections ... ;o)
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        Sep 11 2013: Coming clean can be a big challenge..............do you think fear of man plays a role in admitting one has lied?

        I thoroughly enjoyed your story..........as a teacher, I am a bit ashamed of your exploits....but.....let's just say it was entertaining to read. :)
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          Sep 11 2013: Kids, of what I said, don't do this at school! But if you do, be smarter than me!

          *whispers : 'Mary, why didn't you tell me that you are a teacher?' :o)

          And to save the last bits of my now shattered reputation I hereby state, that I didn't use this cheat sheet that very day! Well, mainly not because I wouldn't have, but because I couldn't have, as I was walking to the teachers desk at the very beginning ... :o)

          Mary, the topic here is about lies, so no reason to be ashamed of them not being applied on good old 'school stories'... Did you never cheat at school? (attention... honey droplet!) :o)

          'Fear of man' plays a role for some, yet seems to me to be to 'far off' our usual close circles we live and lie in. Usually, as closer the people are we lie to, as more guilty we feel.

          The fear of rejection and disapproval is of course the same, yet as long we are no celebrities or within the 'public light', many of us couldn't care less what an anonymous group of people thinks about us.

          I think, this 'Fear of man' actually is the cause of many lies we get to hear in public by many official sources, which often turn even into ridiculous situations.

          Who of us truly beliefs, when 'Marijuana was smoked but not inhaled'? But what those statements do, is to force our 'benefit of the doubt', even though we instinctively 'know' not to be to serious about those 'doubts'.

          I am no fond of such illusions, as they not only deny our imperfections and abilities to improve on them, but also the fact, that learning is exclusively based on making mistakes.

          Of course this is no 'wild-card' and certain mistakes will and should have consequences, but if this doesn't give room for improvement, it will only create what it condemns.
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        Sep 12 2013: Lejan, love your sense humour.
        Sorry to hear your "Imaginative Story" couldn't rescue you from the iron fist of "strict teacher" :)
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          Sep 12 2013: Thank you for your sympathy.

          Well, we all grow by the challenges of our environments... but yes, I barely survived that fist ... ;o)
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      Sep 10 2013: Please allow me to disagree with you on this. Some people tell white lies. They aren't lying for themselves. :)
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        Sep 10 2013: Hello Yoka:>)
        Who is the judge of what is a "white" lie and what might be various shades of gray or darker lies?
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          Sep 10 2013: Dear Colleen, it's my pleasure to answer your question.:)

          I think sometimes people don't want to hurt their loving ones' feelings or make them desperate, so lying could be a kind solution. For example, when some people can't accept they've got a terminal disease like cancer and will crash on mental if they know it,their relatives may choose to lie to conceal the truth to help the patients to establish the confidence of fighting against the disease at first. People in the crowd could judge whether it's a white lie or not.

          For gray lies (I hadn't thought of its color until you named it), is some passive lies basically for defense. For example, you're already 30 years old and parents always push you to get married ,they keep asking you whether you have a girl friend or boy friend now. So bored with their nagging, finally you choose to lie to them saying you have one. And another example is you are asked by some people about your salary(in China it's common), so you may choose to lie to them smartly because you think it's your privacy.

          And the black lies I think are the worst, these are basically to hurt people badly due to the liar's greed and selfishness , they always lust for success,wealth or love in immoral or illegal ways.

          I hope you could understand the above and please excuse my bad expressing .
          Thank you for your question again.
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        Sep 11 2013: Thanks for your reply Yoka:>)

        I asked the question, because it seems like there are lots of situations in which one person may perceive things differently than another person. One person may believe s/he is telling a "little white lie", when it could be devastating for another person when s/he finds out about the lie. Also, I feel that once we know someone lies, even if it is a little white lie, it sometimes compromises trust.

        When I had cancer for example, I would have felt horrible if people had not told me. I believe that knowledge is power, especially with diseases, so withholding information, would have felt like I was being denied valuable information which might help me deal with the circumstances.

        If someone asked me my salary, and I didn't feel that I wanted to give them the information, I would honestly say....it is none of your business......or.....I do not choose to give you that information.

        I totally understand what you write, I know that your perspective is common, and I do not agree with the practice. I generally think/feel that a lie is told for the comfort of the one telling the lie.

        As I said in a previous comment, I believe it is intent, which is the difference between a lie and storytelling. A lie is generally for the purpose of deceiving in some way, while storytelling is for the purpose of entertainment.
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        Sep 12 2013: You are absolutely welcome to express your disagreement :)
        Here the topic is whether story telling is lying or not.
        Not whether a white lie or damn lie is good or bad or who is doing that for what cause. To save someone's life a damn lie can be necessary.
        I feeling is that HISTORY books tell more lies than any other form of literature or art. Here comes the intension or motive why one reads History or literature and that makes the difference.
        Not sure about others , I read history to know the fact and literature for enjoyment , learning and getting deeper insight.....
        By the way these days "MEDIA" is a lying machine......again it's my opinion ....anyone has the liberty to disagree...
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          Sep 12 2013: I'm sorry if my examples of defining different kinds of lies annoyed you. However, I still think I'm on the track of answering some relevant questions here.The thread-starter wants to write a character who considers himself as a story-teller but actually is a liar. I intended to provide some different thinking about the character's lying in the story. But it happened to be too long. Thanks for your reminding and I'll pay attention to that.
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        Sep 12 2013: Nothing to worry or being sorry. We are discussing here and everyone has her/his on lense to see thru things.

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