Pants on Fire: The Genre That Cannot Be Named
“Inventing one composite kid from two could make the story stronger. Certainly it would make writing the story easier for me. I come in part from cheating stock — thieves, adulterers, at least two murderers, as far as I know. I was curious: Could I be a cheater, or, more precisely, a compositor, too?”
Recently, while watching a series of one-hour docudramas on TV, I felted cheated when I read the fine print at the beginning of each story that some of the dramatizations altered the real stories.
I expect this with historical novels. I don’t like it, but I expect it. I used to wonder as a kid reading his first biographies of famous people in grade school: “Where did all this dialogue come from?”
Obviously, nobody followed famous people around with a tape recorder hundreds of years ago. So, the dialogue is mostly fabricated. Trouble is, since most people don’t read history, these fabrications become their view of the “facts” of the past.
And then there’s the author’s acknowledgement at the end of the a historical with comments like, “I moved the battle of XYZ a year earlier in time and 200 miles west of its actual location for purposes of the story.” Excuse me.
That seems to me to be dishonest. Some people say, “well, fiction is supposed to be made up, isn’t it?” Sure, but it cannot change facts unless it’s billed as happening in an alternate universe or written in the “what if?” genre (whatever that is).
But memoirs and documentaries and history books? If the drama isn’t there, making it up really is an example of “liar, liar pants on fire.”
The sad thing is, we’ve not only come to tolerate it, but to justify it.