Stories are filled with unlikely occurrences. It’s hard to avoid unless you’re writing about very mundane events. But no matter how fantastical things get, and how willing the reader is to suspend their disbelief, it’s the writer’s responsibility to make what’s happening on the page feel believable.
And there are plenty of attributes of the good liar that can prove useful in doing this.
A lot of which comes down to not what you say but how you say it.
Some people find lying very easy. It usually takes a lot of practice and a sociopathic personality, but a confident manner and a smooth delivery can fool a lot of the people a lot of the time.
Most of us, however, get very uncomfortable about the whole thing well in advance. Will we get caught? Are we doing a bad thing? Is it too blatant? Does it sound plausible? What if we start sweating and stammering like that other time?
Once you allow doubts to creep in, the dread of being found out can very easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So, what makes a good lie?
Well, you have to sound like you mean what you say.
The less sure someone sounds about what they’re saying, the less convincing they’ll be. The more they hesitate and dither and beat around the bush, the less inclined anyone will be to believe them, regardless of the veracity of what they’re saying.
On the other hand, ever ask someone a simple question and get a long, involved answer with lots of exact dates and times? It may feel like providing all possible details will make for a more convincing case but it usually ends up sounding like a desperate cover-up.
A person telling the truth can only tell you what happened to them as they experienced it. It’s not The Truth they’re telling you, it’s their truth.
A person telling a lie may need to invent things and keep stuff hidden, but they don’t need to provide evidence from independent sources, they only need to relay their own personal view of how things panned out. Telling a story from that one persistent perspective makes it a lot easier to believe.
A clever liar will put themselves inside their invented scenario and treat it like a real one, not just in terms of what they know, but also in terms of what they don’t.
And even though a liar may be forced to make stuff up, it helps to use as much of the truth as possible. They will surround the made-up stuff with undisputable facts. Even the most outrageous lie can seem plausible if everything leading up to it makes perfect sense. The more convincing the whole, the less obvious the flaws.
Or, to put it another way, write what you know to be absolutely true and you’ll be able to slip in all sorts of flights of fancy without raising any eyebrows.
Ultimately, the person who can fool a lie detector is the person who believes their own lie. While self-belief is a key component in making a story sound real, it can be a two-edged sword. There are plenty of people who only manage to convince one person of their nonsense, and that’s themselves.
Not of much use to fibbers or scribblers.
You need to be able to gauge the response to your words. This is obviously a lot more immediate for a liar who can see suspicion blossom in their victim’s face and make the appropriate adjustments to their fabrications.
For a writer it takes a little outside help. If you possess complete confidence in what you’ve written then you have every right to ignore everyone else’s opinions. But it usually pays to at least be aware of why certain things might be proving problematic for some people.
Sometimes it’s the part of the story that happened for real that draws suspect glances, makes no difference. There’s no point being honest if no one believes you.
Feedback won’t necessarily tell you how to fix your story but it will tell you which areas need work, the rest is up to you. And since most liars don’t get a second chance, it’s an opportunity worth taking.
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