Last month I posted about the possible connection between the brains of liars and the brains of novelists. I am sure Freud would have a lot to say about my focus on the links between novel writing and lying, but frankly I don’t want to know what he would think.
Since I am in no position to perform actual scientific research on the subject, the best I can do is look for parallels and imagine what the connections might be.
If one looks up pathological lying, standard information on the subject gives one a lot to ponder. First of all, though the condition commonly called pathological lying has been in the medical literature since 1891, it is not recognized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But that is not to say that it is does not exist. Lots can be and is said on the subject. The more I read about it, the more parallels I see with fiction writing.
Here are some of the things that novelists and pathological liars (P-Liars) have in common:
Ordinary liars, make up stories for self-protection or self-aggrandizement. P-Liars will make up stories and tell them, even if there is no discernible benefit to them. This is absolutely true of novelists. Certainly most of us are not doing it for the money. Or the celebrity. Psychologists call this type of lying “internally motivated.” No novelist I’ve ever met thinks of his or her stories in any other way.
P-Liars begin to show symptoms at around 16 years of age. For a number of years now, I have been asking novelist on two continents at what age they began to write stories. Only once has any of them given me an age over fifteen. Many say they began as early as five. I myself was nine. Perhaps then, the compulsion to write novels is a form of early-onset pathological lying.
P-Liars have average or above average intelligence. I would say most novelists are above average, but this conclusion may be the result of personal prejudice on my part.
The kinds of stories the two groups (?) make up have quite a few similarities. P-Liars’ tales are almost always elaborate and long and are described in one report as “dazzling or fantastical, but never breach the limits of plausibility.” Such stories are the professed goal of novelists. And like novelists, P-Liars know and can admit that their stories are made up. They fail lie detector tests.
People with other, more serious personality disorders may lie, but often they don’t know they’re making things up. They also have traits not usually found in P-Liars or novelists—like a pathological fear of rejection. No person with such a dread could possibly function as a novelist. In fact, we practically revel in rejection. Just ask; we will gladly describe our file of rejection letters. We proudly keep them. They are the proof that we are who we think we are.