Writing Prompt #2: Chemical Engineers

On good writing prompts, liars, and chemical engineers.

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As much as I dislike working in retail, it certainly does provide inspiration for interesting characters.

I work with this guy who’s twenty-one years old who I desperately want to like. We have a lot in common. I’m a nerd, and he’s a nerd; I go to the Calgary Comic expo every year and he’s been to the big one in San Diego. He went to Electric Daisy Carnival (an electronic music festival in Las Vegas) which I almost attended last year. We both got a tattoo around the same time and we even have quite a few friends in common. I really want to befriend him, but I can’t because he has one trait which I simply cannot tolerate: he’s a liar.

When he was first hired at my work a few months ago, he told me and everyone else that he had previously been a chemical engineer, but had decided he didn’t like it and was starting over again in retail until he figured out what to do. As a recent graduate with a BA who hadn’t been able to find any sort of work what so ever, I was impressed and instantly thought this is the kind of person I’d like to be around.

However, as time passed, it soon became apparent that it was impossible to have a conversation with him without being constantly reminded that he was a former chemical engineer. Not only that, but he used his former position to talk down to me and tell me how to do my own job. Yes, I know. It’s just retail. But I’ve worked at the same store for five years. Telling me how to do my job is not only unnecessary, but it is incredibly degrading and patronizing. But I took it because, as he often said, he had been a chemical engineer and was therefore superior to an arts graduate that couldn’t find a job.

This all changed when the chemical engineer encountered another girl, my friend, at work who only works part time because she is a student–in an engineering program. As he does with everyone he meets, he began to brag to her about his former job, not knowing who she was.

“Oh, where did you go to school?” she asked him, her curiosity piqued.

“Well,” he started, “I didn’t actually go to school. My work just trained me and gave me a test, and certified me.”

“As a technician?”

“No as an engineer.”

This didn’t sit well with her.

I myself know absolutely nothing about the engineering field, so I would have never have known something wasn’t quite right.

But she continued, accepting the possibility that he may have been some sort of prodigy, and asked if he’d taken the appropriate exam, calling it by name–something unknown to people ignorant of the engineering field like myself.

It was then that the chemical engineer seemed to recognize the mistake he had made.

“I um, yeah. It was some kind of exam,” he said.

She stared at him, speaking carefully now, “And what exactly were you doing at your old work?”

He hesitated. “Maintenance on some high tech machines.”

“What kind of machines?”

“Complicated ones.”

“Yeah, but what kind?”

He looked away and mumbled something.

“What did you say?”

And this ladies and gents, is how my coworkers and I found out that after months of being patronized by this twenty-one year old kid who acted like he was superior to us in every way because of his “degree” that he in fact was not a chemical engineer, but…wait for it…drum roll…

A guy that stocked vending machines.

Despite the fact that he was caught by my friend, he is the kind of person who will never admit that he’s lied, and will continue to lie until there’s no point in conversing with him.

He continued to talk down to everyone, assuming that none of us knew the truth meanwhile it became more and more apparent that not only had he lied about his last job, but he was likely stretching the truth about everything else he told us too. He did this all the while talking to myself and the rest of our coworkers as if we were stupid and incompetent.

On a day when I was feeling particularly irritable, he sauntered into the break room and  began bragging about his “bachelor’s degree.” I spent the last four years of my life working my ass off in school to get my BA, meanwhile, this kid who had never been to school was talking down to me. I snapped.

“Except you don’t actually have a degree, so you should probably stop telling people that you do,” I snarled.

The colour drained from his face and it took him a moment to sputter out a sentence; clearly I had caught him off guard. He was so used to talking down to us without any questions that it must have come as quite a shock.

When he finally recovered, he mumbled, “Yeah, but, I have like an honorary degree.”

I said nothing more and he slunk out of the room.

Liar, liar, pants on fire.

Unfortunately, since my outburst nothing has changed. He was recently caught lying to one of the older employees by telling her that when he goes to get his degree, he’s going to have five majors and become a criminal profiler. I think he’s just on a Criminal Minds kick.

Now whenever my friends suspect someone of telling lies, we quietly say to each other, “I think that person may be a chemical engineer…”

As annoying as he is in real life, he certainly makes an interesting character.

So here is your writing prompt:

Write a story from the perspective of a “chemical engineer” or in other words, a chronic liar.

This could be fun because it makes you consider all the different reasons people lie (to build themselves up to tear others down because of low self esteem, to gain something, to appear a certain way, for no reason at all etc.). Everyone lies, but it’s those who can’t seem to stop themselves from uttering a syllable of truth that are particularly interesting. Iago from Othello, anyone?

At its core, I think that telling lies is an attempt at manipulation; it shows the desire to control other people. Perhaps your character feels a stark lack of control in their life, so they respond by telling falsities.

Just because someone lies a lot, doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a bad person. I happen to believe that at his core, the guy from my work is a good guy. He just feels so low about himself that he feels the need to embellish the facts. With the word of his mouth, a crappy job transforms into a prestigious one. It’s too bad because if he stopped telling lies and talking down to everyone around him, I think he and I could be very good friends.

Will your character lie because they’re innately evil? Or is she/he just a misguided, but generally good? Do they lie because they want control? Control over what? Are they even aware that they’re lying? Do the people they interact with know they’re lying? Think about all of these things before you write.

Have fun with it, and try your best to not be a “chemical engineer” in real life.

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