Is J. D. Salinger a Liar? Are You?

Did Holden Caulfield really have the adventures and angst the author wrote about? Of course not. There wasn’t a Holden Caulfield. Catcher in the Rye is a work of fiction.

So what’s the difference between fiction and a lie? Is storytelling lying?

I think the distinction we make for ourselves is that novelists don’t pretend that they are telling us the truth. They don’t set out to deceive because they write novels, which are clearly labeled as untrue. No evil intent, no lie.

Judging from my email and some postings on blogs here and there, it seems that some people have a trouble with the word "liar". Liar is a word that makes us angry.

When I wrote All Marketers Are Liars (Liar’s Blog) I was trying to make a point about true lies.

Some (mostly those that haven’t bothered to read it) think I’m telling people to lie and cheat and deceive and abandon what few ethics we’ve got left. Nope! I’m doing the opposite.

I start by telling you that you ARE telling a story whether you want to or not. You are a novelist, a film director, a fabulist. It’s impossible to deliver the entire truth to anyone, ever, so by making choices, you’re telling a story. If your blog is well-designed, that’s part of your story. If your blog is ugly, that’s a story too. Neither story has to do with the words. But you’re still telling a story. We as marketers ought to recognize that and start acting that way–our competition sure is.

Then I say that telling a story that is inauthentic, inconsistent, hollow or filled with unstated side effects isn’t just wrong, it’s stupid. The best lies are true! True in the sense that you don’t disappoint the listener when she discovers more facts about what you do.

Any marketer who believes that they are in the business of telling the truth about what they do is delusional. You can’t. Not enough time, not enough attention, not enough money.

J.D. Salinger understood this when he wrote his novels. He didn’t try to tell the truth. He tried to tell a story that resonated.

Be a true liar. Someone who knows he’s in the storytelling business, someone who tells people about his ideas in terms they want to hear it. But be someone who’s stories hold up under inspection.