*For readability purposes and pure literary aesthetics, I will use the male gender throughout this piece.
If a fisherman tells you he caught a fish “this big” and then holds his hands apart about 3 feet, you can reasonably shave a few feet from that gesture to get a more accurate measurement of this “monster” fish in question (if in fact there was a fish at all). Fishermen are genetically predisposed to add length and girth to any fish they’ve caught when retelling their epic sixteen-hour battle to land it. But it’s cool. It’s little more than a harmless session of ‘shooting of the bull’ and has been a humorous point of contention for years in friendly circles when ‘Gerry’ (I just made up that name. I apologize to all the real-life for-true fishermen named Gerry) regales anyone who will listen about “the one that got away”. It’s good natured. Gerry’s fish tale becomes more entertaining as it is reheated, rehashed, and embellished so far from its original anecdotal running time of about one minute to the extended version of nineteen minutes where there are now newly recounted dramatic elements introduced, spun from pure fantasy – so far removed from the reality of the actual details. In one version he may have fought off a bear to keep the fish.
We like to spin yarns and tell ‘whoppers’ about the ones that ‘got away’ much like we like to hear someone tell a great ghost story around a campfire; the drama and entertainment lay in the details. How you craft your tale is akin to building a great structure – key elements, build one upon the other with careful planning so that each fact adds strength and verisimilitude of the tale. If you rush it, you’ll slip up and someone will call you out on a blatant inconsistency. Consequently, you’ll be forced to take a few steps back or try to explain it away. The flow is interrupted. You must now divert spend energy tweaking your tale on the fly to compensate for poor continuity. The foundation has been shaken. Too many of these cracks and the story falls apart and you are mocked for telling such an absurd tale.
Then there are those bewildering fabrications that crop up on the spot to help us get out of some type of jam. These tales are different on one main front: motivation. What is the motive in crafting this tale? Is it really to entertain or perhaps to exonerate one’s self? To inject oneself into some high drama to inflate one’s sense of self worth? Mostly it’s to get out of a jam. The tale, which may contain kernels of truth is made up on impulse, which places the tale on an unstable foundation right from the get go. There are no weight-bearing cornerstones to allow the tale to grow in strength and be able to sustain itself under its own weight; to stand up to scrutiny.
There are times when telling an exaggerated anecdote costs nothing more than a few eye-rolls and groans. Unless you are telling it to the media to cover up some post-libations shenanigans. Then you can be left treading water tethered to an anchor. Plus, in this digital age if you tell someone you fought off a grizzly bear while landing a 132-pound sturgeon from the shore, someone will likely ask “where’s the photo? Why didn’t you take a selfie?” If you tell someone you were robbed at gunpoint but you were cool as a cucumber, you may want to see if Big Brother was watching over what really went down.