Writers get paid for taking their readers for a ride. Lying comes with the territory. Here are 10 reasons, why writers must not only know how to do it but master this skill.
10 Reasons Why Writers Must Be Expert Liars
Lying – some call it a moral depravity, a cardinal sin, or just a bad habit. But for writers, telling tall tales is a professional requirement. It’s not just about fabricating stories. Lies offer many more benefits to writers. This blog will tell you all about it. But first, let’s look at what a lie really is.
What Is Lying?
Wikipedia says that a lie ‘is an assertion that is believed to be false, typically used with the purpose of deceiving or misleading someone.’
All fiction is written to create an alternative truth. It is designed to divert readers from the reality they live in. In a way, lying is the first requirement to become an author (see below).
So, authors should better be good at it. Why? Here are ten reasons.
10 Reasons Authors Should Excel At Lying
- Lies create stories. Fictional stories aren’t true, therefore they’re lies. If stories were true, authors would be journalists. It’s that simple. Lying is a talent every writer needs to have. If you can’t lie, you can’t write.
- Lies are an art form. Oscar Wilde teaches us all about it in his essay, ‘The Decay of Lying’. Essentially, he argues that truth is ugly and boring. We need to embellish it and make it more interesting. That’s what liars do. Writing (and art in general) should show an improved version of life. Art should make sense where life doesn’t. This improvement can only be achieved by conscious and elaborate work.
- Learn when to stop lying. Writers create alternative realities (lies) out of bits of other people’s truths. To do this, they need to use the formula for successful lying in general: You fabricate the facts, but you stick truthfully to the emotion. That lends an authenticity that makes everything so truthful to the reader.
- Lies help create our unique writing voice. For the reader to believe a story, it needs to sound true (even though it’s not). Writers need to fabricate a voice that sounds as if they had made all these experiences, seen all these places and witnessed all these events in their books. This voice is a stylistic device that helps package an author’s research. It will sound truthful to the reader even though it’s all smoke and mirrors.
- Lies provide great plot. Ever read a detective story and you were sure that you knew the murderer? Ten pages more and you found out you were completely wrong. That’s a red herring. It’s an example of a plot device where writers lie directly to their readers. Another example is the MacGuffin. It’s a story element that at first seems central to the story. As the story progresses, it turns out to be completely unimportant. Alfred Hitchcock was a master at that. Both red herrings and MacGuffins play with the readers’ expectations. Genres like crime and mystery rely heavily on those devices.
- Lies protect a writer’s ego. When writers start, they don’t have a lot of self-confidence. They rarely admit that they believe writing to be their true vocation. Family members are known to be notoriously critical. So, beginner writers need to lie to people about what they do. It gets lots easier to be truthful when their first book is available in the bookstore.
- Lies make great inspiration. Writers are a bit like secret agents. They might be a newsagent during the day, and writers by night. This lifestyle is beneficial because it provides them with inspiration. Writers can communicate more freely with people when nobody knows they’re writers. It just makes some people uneasy. They always wonder if their last joke might end up in a book. To writers, this double life provides them also with experiences they can write about.
- Lies protect the sources of the writers. Writers often use real events from people they know or read about in the papers. Or conversations they either had themselves or eavesdropped on. If writers were truthful about their sources, they’d cause a lot of grief. So, they change names and places, and mix up some facts here and there, to make the truth as it happened unrecognizable. It’s the emotion they’re after. This concealment is very similar to what journalists do to their sources, except that writers have developed this into an art form. Protecting the sources means they remain sources.
- Lies provide safety. Some writers lie about their names. This protects the writer as much as those they write about. There are many reasons for pen names. J.K. Rowling chose ‘Robert Galbraith’ as a pseudonym because being famous for children’s books might not make an ideal sales pitch for her crime novel. That’s why she technically lied to her readers when her first crime novel was published. But her identity leaked very fast, and people bought the novel anyway.
- Lies protect authors from impostor syndrome. Every publisher and every agent want to represent writers with lots of experience and many previous publications. On book blurbs, you need to present your book as if it already won the Pulitzer. It’s all about packaging. Your readers will want to buy a masterpiece, not a beginner writer’s scribble. So, authors need to use truthful facts but package them as if they were the most brilliant book anyone could ever buy. Even if the author feels like a fraud. Sometimes you need to fake it till you make it. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re a fraud. Lie.
Now that you’ve learned how important lying can be to your success as a writer, let’s talk about the downside. Artistic liberty will excuse a lot of lies. But not all. Here’s one that readers won’t forgive.
This Lie Is Every Author’s Cardinal Sin
Authors sometimes become so enchanted with fabricating their worlds of fiction that they completely ignore that lying can turn into an author’s cardinal sin.
It all depends on the intention. Usually, a common liar wants to gain an advantage or avert a disadvantage. A true lie is a very selfish thing.
Authors can be selfish, too. When they write solely for their own pleasure and fall in love with their own words, they tend to neglect the story. This often happens when authors refuse to kill their darlings. It’s bad because the lie loses its purpose to entertain. Readers catch this every time. Annoying your readers is the worst thing you can do as an author.
Let’s hope these authors have fearless editors who steer them on the right track again.
The Last Word
I hope you’ve enjoyed this alternative view on lying (and no, this is not a lie). Happy writing!
By Susanne Bennett. Susanne is a German-American writer who is a journalist by trade and a writer by heart. After years of working at German public radio and an online news portal, she has decided to accept challenges by Deadlines for Writers. Currently she is writing her first novel with them. She is known for overweight purses and carrying a novel everywhere. Follow her on Facebook.
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