Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Characters Who Lie

Are such a pain!!!

(This refers to the secondary characters and love interests who lie to the MC, not the MCs with dishonest streaks, since the latter can be a great deal of fun.)

Anyhow, when writing a first person POV, facts presented by other characters typically have to be taken at face value. Unless the MC/reader has already seen/heard something that contradicts what the other character is saying, or unless that character is a notorious liar, the things they say are pretty much accepted as truths.

On the one hand, this can be used to create some shocking plot twists. On the other hand, if you knock the reader's feet out from under them too many times, they're going to get annoyed. Even if you only do it once, if a shocking plot twist had no foreshadowing - a couple of events/bits of dialogue the reader can look back on and think, "Oh, now I get it!" - I think we run the risk of jarring readers out of the story and perhaps into closing the book.

And yet, if the foreshadowing spells out that Character B was lying to Character A, to the point where the reader is banging their head against the wall, shouting, "Why haven't you clued in, Character A!?!?" that's not good either.

Surely the possibility of a happy medium exists, but I find it can be very hard to achieve. We, as the authors, know everything. Sometimes it's hard to gauge what a clue or bit of foreshadowing will tell the reader. Is it enough? Is it too much? And then there's always the problem: would this actually happen?

Would Character B actually slip up and say something to make Character A suspicious? Would they leave the mysterious note lying around where Character A could find it? Would they be creeping around, going about their mysterious business outside Character A's window late at night?

In plenty of cases, yes, they might.

But personally, I've found myself having to say no a lot of the time. This is because, in my WIP, I'm dealing with not one but two very good liars. I've got one ex-Intel agent who was trained in the art of deception, and one military captain who's been lying to people like my ex-Intel agent almost constantly for the past seven years. Furthermore, both their lives are on the line, so they're going to be darn careful about what they say and do.

It's had me really quite stuck for a while, and it doesn't help that my MC isn't the brightest crayon in the box, so she doesn't question things too much. Which might drive my future betas insane - I really can't tell -- but anyway!

There was a point to all that ranting and babbling. Honestly, there was!

I want to know what you think of all this. What sort of hints do you give your readers about the things other characters are hiding? What sort of hints do you want as a reader? How clear/obscure do you like things to be, how long can you tolerate mysteriousness dragging on, and/or how badly annoyed are you when an author rips a plot line out from beneath you and turns it around in the opposite direction?

Let me know! I'm curious. :)


  1. I'm never really annoyed by shocking plot turns, I tend to find them interesting!

    Unless it totally and completely ruins the 'feel' of the book.

    I don't know how to feel about foreshadowing...I'm still working on it ;)

  2. I think foreshadowing is a thing you have to try and fail at and keep trying and failing at until you get a feel for it. I know that's horrible advice, but...yeah, it's what I do. I don't know any other way. Better advice, I suppose, would be to tell you to read more mystery and foreshadowy sorts of books. Learn from the pros. ;)

  3. I wrecked the last draft of my urban fantasy with this exact problem. Like yours, my protagonist is neither smart nor sneaky, and he's surrounded by scheming liars - and I just couldn't figure out how to show the behind-the-scenes machinations. It ended up confusing the heck out of readers. I ended up deciding to add a scheming liar's POV.

  4. It helps to give a little backstory on secondary characters, just a little to indicate that they may or not be a liar.

    Shocking plot turns are fun because if they did it well enough, you can trace all the reasons why it happened when you reread the book.

  5. I like to devote a few lines earlier in the books to hints, but I try to be misleading about it - like the hints are being put there in reference to some other situation. I try to be sneaky, anyway!