On the first day of my Intro to Creative Writing class, I ask my students to do the following exercise as a means of introduction.
1. Write down two lies and one truth about yourself. It’s ideal if students write about specific and concrete events. Avoid the mundane like “I like cheese” and small factual discrepancies like “I have six brothers” when really you have seven.
2. Share. The class will try to pick out the truth.
3. After everyone shares, students will pick one of their lies and write a narrative based on that lie. What’s the character like? How would they react in the situation?
4. Now, consider the true statement. What if the character also had had that experience? Rewrite the narrative of the experience knowing the character has the “true” statement as a backstory.
5. Questions to ask yourself during and after the rewrite: How has the character changed in your mind? Did the two experiences make sense for the character? What is “true” in this new narrative? What’s the difference between “truth” and believability? Can something be “true” in a piece of writing that’s not necessarily “true” in real life?
These questions should illustrate what sorts of inferences students might make during this exercise. Plus, they get to open up and introduce themselves to the class. I should thank Tom Balázs, my undergrad fiction professor, who used to do Two Lies and a Truth at the beginning of the semester. I hope the additions to the exercise encourage students to think about context and to create believable characters.