Fiction is a lie, as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury and Albert Camus have all stated. But a good storyteller can make an untruth believable within the world or reality they construct.
To become a good storyteller perhaps one needs to be a good liar. To become a good liar perhaps the starting point is to avoid clues that you are lying.
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If you Google “Forensic Statement Analysis” you find lots of garbage; courses and workshops you can sign up for (after paying a reasonable fee) to learn how to detect liars. These may or may not have elements of legitimacy. To me, they seem as likely to improve your life as the books about body language; some potential value, but it’s not the equivalent of X-ray vision or mind reading some make it out to be. Crime fiction writers may find it more useful than the rest of us.
One source I found is a book with a preview available on Google books:
Some of the author’s comments apply to writing fiction.
Information gaps, in victim or suspect statements:
- “ … 1) the action was interrupted and if the statement is credible, the interruption should be described or 2) the writer is intentionally omitting time and information from their statement, indicating deception.”
If you leave out information, your statement becomes suspect. The same applies to the story you are fabricating. Don’t leave gaps in the logic, or skip events, or miss chunks of time, unless you do so intentionally to raise suspicions in your reader.
And sensory gaps:
- “False statements provided by an alleged victim may reveal a lack of sensory details because the person could not perceive any sensory data from a fictitious account.”
- “A statement written by a deceptive suspect may disclose the same lack of sensory details, but for different reasons — either to avoid providing a truthful account that would implicate the writer or to refrain from supplying detailed false information that a competent investigator could refute.”
Summarized, a truthful statement is more likely to include a variety of sensory elements (not just sight) than an untruthful one, and a deception will give less detail and volume of description to avoid offering some that might be challenged and found to be false.
Our fiction often lacks sufficient sensory details for the same reason as the lie; we weren’t actually there. To help convince the reader that we are telling the truth we need to include lots of sensory description, like an experienced liar might.
Writers know passive voice should be used carefully, for reasons I won’t rehash here, but also:
- “The passive voice becomes significant in investigative statements when it is used to evade an issue.”
- “An important point to know regarding passive voice/language in a statement is it is used to hide the identity of the actor of the story is a fabrication, and the writer uses the passive voice in order to not identify or give a name to the imaginary person he is writing about.”
“Jeff left the safe unlocked” raises questions about Jeff. Change it to passive voice; “the safe was left unlocked” and we remove the doer of the action, and hide Jeff.
It’s more distasteful to falsify events, to state an outright lie like, “Jeff did not leave the safe unlocked” or “I saw Jeff lock the safe” than to use passive voice and say “the safe was not locked” and shrug our shoulders when asked if we know who left it vulnerable. Passive voice allows us to (attempt to) avoid lying by telling an incomplete truth. But like cookie crumbs in the corner of a five year old’s mouth, using passive voice may raise suspicions that we’re not telling the whole story.
For criminal investigators, elements such as information gaps, sensory gaps, and passive voice are potential clues that a story is false or incomplete. All of us, including our readers, are vaguely aware that this makes sense. If we want to extend our readers’ suspension of disbelief, it helps to avoid the mistakes of inexperienced deluders.
Write your fiction as if you are a virtuoso con artist. Avoid passive voice, watch out for information gaps, and give the reader enough sensory information to be believed.