Guest Post: Why Lie?

A continuation of UZ’s series of guest posts, begun yesterday.

Most writers who believe in the natural process will ask – why lie? If writing is supposed to be communication, shouldn’t we communicate what we actually feel is right? My response, inadequate as it may seem, is that this isn’t the only way and we should keep our options open.
One of the more worrisome experiences I’ve had with presenting my work to small audiences is that anything that I leave implied is usually interpreted differently by readers than I expect. Differences of setting, colour, character appearance and even character species have been common, and when I asked the readers about this they explained that they just thought of it that way and it stuck. Their mind fills in the blanks with what they think is most appropriate and this may well be distant from your personal vision of the story from a writer’s perspective. Under these circumstances, the notion of “honesty” is a bit warped, which is one of the ideas I’m trying to put forward.
There are stories that play on this, our assumptions about people usually. It’s usually a short story technique, but I remember at least one novel that does the same, allowing us to go through the entire story believing that the main character is “normal” and then explaining at the end that they are – for example – a freaky lizard person. Maybe they knew and we didn’t, they didn’t bother to mention it. Maybe they didn’t know, it happened while they were asleep and nobody told them. But, the shortcoming of natural storytelling – reader assumptions out of line with our vision – becomes a tool as well as a risk for the dishonest.
Everything is like this; any situation where the reader can misinterpret is also a situation we can engineer to give them a misapprehension. Another technique I sometimes like to use – recasting – involves having a character in the story redescribe a situation from their own viewpoint.
This is exceptionally dishonest – literally repeating ourselves with slightly different words, just to make sure that the reader heard us right – but try it and you’ll find that it seems much more natural than it really is. This is a worthy exercise for someone who wants to learn dishonest writing – try something according to this formula, all as a single scene with no breaks:
- Character A engages in some activity that is impressive, heroic, or dangerous, while Character B watches
- Character C asks what just happened
- Character B redescribes what just happened in very deprecating terms
This allows us to characterize A as a hero and B as a wet blanket, establish that B’s relationship with A is an antagonistic one, and possibly build some sympathy for A as wronged for doing well. That’s a lot of benefit for saying the same thing twice, as long as we do it the right way. Give this a try, and see what dishonesty can get us.

3 comments

  1. Tom Coenen says:

    UZ,

    you’re correct in saying that people make a lot of assumptions when things aren’t explicitly stated.
    I’m a dungeon master in a D&D group and I sometimes use assumptions to create plot twists.
    Anyway, thanks for the post.

  2. UZ says:

    @Tom Coenen: RPG players and especially GM’s are more likely to be acquainted with these techniques. The RPG is collaborative fiction for many people, and so it’s a good venue for learning about reader assumptions.

    Thank you for your comment!


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