Monday, July 26, 2010

Lying Liars

Cricket McRae


I love Pinocchio. It’s a great coming-of-age tale, inspirational and hopeful, plus it has a cricket as a major character (ha!). But I also love it because I’m a lying liar. No comments on the size of my nose, please.

All fiction writers are liars. We make up people, situations, places, events, timelines, and may introduce magic, vampires and werewolves as well as other fantasy elements. We can seriously mess with science or even rewrite history. Our kind of lying is tricky, though, because the folks we lie to know we’re doing it. They actually seek out the stories we create.

Notice I didn’t say they seek out our untruths. That’s because fiction, though not true by definition, must be True in a larger sense. It doesn’t have to be believed; it has to be believable. Another tricky bit to manage.

I have a writing friend who was a reporter for many years. The research for his historical baseball mystery is meticulous. Every game he uses in the book was actually played with the players he names. In fact, the actual plays were made. The streets, the food, the police uniforms – really everything about the atmosphere is exact and accurate. Even the jargon is spot on. All that lends a great deal to the believability of his story.

Another writing friend makes up everything he can, even though he may use real people and places as part of his stories. But because he never fudges with things like cause and effect, coincidence or acts of God, his stories make sense and are, again, believable and therefore entertaining.

I sit on the fence. The small town that my Home Crafting Mysteries are set in is based on a real town, but I “fictionalize” it because it gives me more freedom. I want the leeway to make some things up as I go along, yet I don’t have to create all the details. The fourth in the series, Something Borrowed, Something Bleu is set in a different town, also based on a real town and fictionalized. In the acknowledgements I note that if anyone recognizes the town they should know that the sheriff’s department operates differently because I made the town much smaller than it actually is.

My characters feel real to me, especially the series characters, and there are simply things they won’t or can’t do. For example, my main character, Sophie Mae Reynolds, is a terrible liar. Everyone says so, and she believes it. And sometimes she is awkward when trying to lie. But actually she’s the best kind of liar because she incorporates as much truth into her lies as possible so she doesn’t really think of it as lying. That makes it much more effective.

Kind of like fiction.

Her mother is a pretty good liar, though, or at least Sophie Mae thinks so. So in this latest book, which involves a trip back to her hometown in Colorado to investigate her brother’s suicide note which surfaced after eighteen years, Sophie Mae thinks a lot about lying. How to do it well. How not to get caught. It’s like a goal for her.

And she does get better at it. I wonder how that will backfire later? Because I can already tell it will.

I’ve been tagged a couple of times with the four-truths-and-one-lie challenge, and I’ve yet to step up. I can’t decide whether that’s because I don’t want to tell the lie or because I don’t want to reveal four truths. Maybe if I make the lie thoroughly boring it won’t stand out from the truths.

How do you feel about lying? Are you good at it? Do you feel guilty? And what about characters in books lying: Is it good or bad or simply a matter of what the story demands – like in Pinocchio?


Mary said...

I look at fiction as make believe. No different than pretending at play as a child. The characters are people and people sometimes lie -- some are better at it than others. Lying is what happens in real life and pretend. In real life it not the best choice. In pretend the bad choice and consequences are sometimes easier to recognize as with your Pinocchio.
I see fiction writers as entertainers not as liars.

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

One of my favorite writing books is "How to Lie for Fun and Profit." :)

I'm VERY good at lying. I try hard not to do it. :)

Alan Orloff said...

I'm terrible at lying. And that's the truth. Or is it...?

Lois Winston said...

I suck at lying. You can see it all over my face. I'd make a terrible spy. One of my kids is just like me. He gets this smirk on his face when he lies. My other son would make a great spy. He has absolutely no tells on his face or in his body language.

As for my characters, some are great liars and some are like me.

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

I'm with Mary, I see fiction as make-believe with characters doing what they have to do. I have fun with my characters and how they handle lying, which they often must do to learn what they need to learn. Some of my main characters lie with ease and without a smidgen of guilt and actually strive to do better at it. Others are tortured by telling a fib. Just like in real life.

I could tell you whether or not I'm a good liar, but would you believe me?

Cricket McRae said...

Mary, good point! Making up stories for entertainment is indeed a kind of play, versus telling an untruth as if it were a truth.

Elizabeth, remind me never to play poker with you.

Alan, I believe you. Honest.

Lois, I wonder whether the ability to lie (or not to) could be genetic?

Sue Ann, as mystery writers I think our characters are often in situations where they need to lie in order to gain access to information. And of course I'd believe you. Unless I didn't. ; - )

Carol Grace said...

Lying is good. Lying is fine especially when protecting someone from the awful truth. It's best for me to set books in an imaginary town so I don't get in trouble for having my characters go the wrong way on Highway One on the Calif. coast. That was the cause for those letters from readers who pounced on that one tiny mistake!!

Lisa Bork said...

I got an Amazon review from a reader who said she was tired of cozies with women who lie to their boyfriend/fiance/spouse in the police department and wouldn't want to read my books anymore if the lying continued.

Jolene's fiction, but for some reason, I feel so guilty.

Beth Groundwater said...

You know, I just realized that the two protagonists in my two series mostly tell the truth, probably because I do! Like Alan & Lois, I'm not very good at lying (likely because of lack of practice), and that carries over into my characters. Cricket, I HAVE found that it's easier to tell white lies on-line that it is to tell them in person, so I say go for it, take that 4 truths and 1 lie challenge!

Darrell James said...

Cricket- I've always said that "the best lie is the one closest to the truth."

The fact that I have a slogan for lying troubles me a bit. Perhaps that's just the writer in me!?!?

G.M. Malliet said...

There is a very funny video out there somewhere of a kid, maybe two years old, sitting in a high chair with half his face covered in chocolate. His mother keeps asking him if he ate the chocolate cake, and he keeps denying it.

I do think we learn this stuff early, it's just that we're not very good at it, at first.

Keith Raffel said...

I don't lie. I just travel to a parallel universe and write down what people say and what I see happen.

Jess Lourey said...

You make a great point about the internal consistency required, Cricket. I, unfortunately, am a good liar but I make a conscious effort to not do it. Unless I'm writing. ;)

Cricket McRae said...

Carol, I use a fictional setting for the same reason -- hate those emails calling me on mistakes!

Lisa, your character lies to the police?! I'm sure that only happens in fiction. ; >

Practice makes perfect, Beth. Maybe I will have to buck up and tell my lie (and truths).

Darrell, of course you have a slogan for lying just because you're a writer (ahem, cough, cough).

That video sounds cute, G.M. You're right that we learn how to lie, as well as whether or not to lie, early on. I just wonder whether some of us aren't better liars to start with, like some kids are better at math right off the bat.

Nice, Keith! That sounds much more relaxing than the way I do it.

Jess, so fiction is an outlet for a natural ability that you otherwise squash. How practical!

Kathleen Ernst said...

My protagonist, Chloe, occasionally lies. Once to keep a conversation moving (Yes, I understand what you're saying), once to get the local cop off her back (I agree not to rummage in so-and-so's desk.) Neither is a whopper, and I hope readers will understand that she's doing what she has to do.

How good a liar am I? I'm not sayin'...

Cricket McRae said...

Won't tell, huh, Kathleen? Hmm. But Chloe's lies sound forgiveable to me.

Deborah Sharp said...

I'm a disturbingly excellent liar, Cricket.