Roll with me: Fiction is making stuff up, and Creative Nonfiction is lying. Lying is different from making stuff up-- it's reshaping the truth to better suit your needs. When I'm writing creative nonfiction, the need I'm lying towards is the cohesion and impact of the story. I'm asking myself, "How can I get closer to the emotional impact this story has for me by changing how and what I tell?"
Whenever I tell people about my grandfather's boat, I lie by omission, mostly. I simplify things. The long version of the story is that my grandfather wanted to buy a sailboat, but my grandmother didn't want him to buy a boat at all. Eventually he wound up buying a speedboat-- smaller, easier to care for-- and he named the speedboat The Compromise.
When I used to tell people this story in full, it never had the punch I wanted it to have. I would be like, "Geddit, because buying a speedboat was supposed to be a compromise, so that's what they named it?" But people didn't really laugh. So I restructured the whole thing and left some things out.
My grandfather has a boat named The Compromise. He wanted to get a boat, but my grandmother didn't, so they compromised and bought a boat.
Most of the time, people don't care to hear all the little details. If they did, they'd be reading a novel, not listening to me talk at a party. So when I'm talking at a party, I keep to the short version. But there's more to it than that.
The lie gets something across that the long version doesn't. The boat's name becomes more ironic, because without having all the logistics explained, the 'compromise' that led to its purchase starts sounding less like a compromise and more like a victory on my grandfather's part. And that's how I feel it was. Even though he gave up on the sailboat, he still won the fight over the boat, making the name "The Compromise" funny because it’s not really accurate. This makes more sense in the context of my grandparents’ entire relationship, which seems to be based on constant competition between them. Every conversation is a high-stakes trivia game that only one of them can win. I could describe what it’s like to play cards with them, and then you’d understand what I mean.
If you wanted to hear about what it’s like playing cards with my grandparents, you’d have asked, or looked for my autobiography. If I started describing it to you while we were in the car going somewhere, though, you’d become frustrated with the traffic and how we seem to be hitting every single red light and each tangent I go on leads to more tangents and we could have been there already if only I’d just shut up for a second. And all I’d wanted really was to get a laugh out of you with The Compromise that wasn’t really a compromise.
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