Lie Your Way to Better Fiction

20 Aug

'Promise?' photo (c) 2007, Carmella Fernando - license: is one of my favorite things in writing fiction.

I love it when characters tell lies, thinking it will get them out of trouble, but instead they only dig themselves in deeper.

I love it when they intentionally use words with double meaning, or their body language conveys the exact opposite of what they’re saying.

I love it when they make sneaky deals, thinking they’ll outsmart the opposition who, of course, is doing the exact same thing to them.

But most of all, I love it when the characters lie to themselves.

We all tell ourselves little lies to get through the day. We want to make sense of a chaotic world, so we twist the facts just a little bit until they reinforce what we need to believe. Every observation is filtered, slanted, and spun by our own desires and delusions.

The start of the school year always forces me to confront my own favorite lie. All year long, I tell myself that I really am an organized person. If only I didn’t have to deal with carpooling, homework projects, and extra-curricular activities, I could really get things done. I will do better when summer comes and I don’t have all these darn appointments.

Then school lets out. Of course, I can’t accomplish anything with kids running through the house and a vacation to plan…and…and… It’s not me. It’s never me. I really am an organized person. I’ll get so much done once school starts.

Lying to ourselves is wonderful until we realize we’re wrong.

Then reality comes crashing down and chaos ensues.

Chaos can make a really great novel.

Writing lies into a story can be the difference between writing cardboard cutouts and creating characters that come alive. The lies our characters tell themselves reveal so much about who they are.  Once the reader understands the character’s flawed belief system, they’ll anticipate what the character is going to do, and enjoy the novel even more.

These character-developing lies don’t have to be huge.  Think back to all those classic I Love Lucy episodes. Lucy almost always got in trouble because of a single lie she told herself. She convinced herself that she could do anything if only Ricky wasn’t holding her back. Never mind that she didn’t know anything about wrapping candy, or making vitamin commercials, or towing a trailer. She always believed she could outsmart him and that little self-delusion drove every episode.

Which kind of lies are your favorite in novels? Do you intentionally write lies into your stories?


Posted by on August 20, 2012 in Idaho


12 responses to “Lie Your Way to Better Fiction

  1. ramblingsfromtheleft

    August 20, 2012 at 5:31 AM

    Clarissa … the truth is so overrated 🙂 And yes … I love to have one or two of my characters “fudge” on the truth or delude themselves a bit. It’s fun and it’s what makes them the little devils they are … just like me 🙂

    • Clarissa Southwick

      August 26, 2012 at 11:31 AM

      Hi Florence, Yes, devils are so much fun to read and write. Sorry I’ve been so slow to answer. I really do appreciate your comments. 🙂

  2. Janis McCurry

    August 20, 2012 at 7:01 AM

    One of my characters “fudges” the truth all the time. She fudges to her daughter, her neighborhood cop. She’s a bit of “the ends justify the means” kind of character who wants the best for the people she loves. Her cop friend has a sensitive BS alert and calls her on it. Her daughter not so much. How this will get her in trouble is for a future book!

    • Clarissa Southwick

      August 26, 2012 at 11:32 AM

      Gee, must be hard to keep all those lies straight 🙂 Sounds like lots of trouble for the character and fun for the reader 🙂

  3. Liz Fredericks

    August 20, 2012 at 7:55 AM

    Deception is a central facet of the human character. Researchers will argue that people engage in this behavior to protect, acquire, or maintain. The ‘what’ and ‘why’ of the protect/acquire/maintain sequence is where it gets interesting in stories (and life, I suppose). To protect a reputation, a person or an ideal? To acquire or maintain adulation? And for what goal? This makes for great stories

    • Clarissa Southwick

      August 26, 2012 at 11:33 AM

      Hi Liz, I love that you can always give us the science behind the writing. Thanks for commenting:)

  4. Peggy Staggs

    August 20, 2012 at 9:42 AM

    What an intriguing idea. I always think I’m telling myself the truth…but of course I’m not always. I think having a character lying to himself is a great way to add depth to them.

    • Clarissa Southwick

      August 26, 2012 at 11:47 AM

      Hi Peggy, Yes, it can be fun when the character’s the only one who doesn’t know he’s lying to himself. Thanks for the comment!

  5. Meredith Allen Conner

    August 20, 2012 at 9:59 AM

    Oooh, Oooh! I love a good lie too! I sometimes think I am a master at deceiving myself. I think that is why I love to have tricky characters, I feel that I have a certain amount of control over their lies at least 🙂

  6. Stephanie Berget

    August 20, 2012 at 11:50 AM

    I love this. Telling little lies to myself is one of my favorite pass times, until, like you said, it all comes crashing down. You’d think I’d learn, but no…
    Thanks for a fun post

  7. Lynn Mapp

    August 20, 2012 at 5:20 PM

    You’ve given me something to think about. I don’t have them lying, but perhaps I should. It would make things more interesting.

  8. maryvine

    August 22, 2012 at 6:17 PM

    My characters don’t tell lies (except to themselves), but maybe they should. Your description of characters who do such things, made me want to read this kind of book. Great post, Clarrissa. Thanks.


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