Monday, 4 April 2011

3 Ways to Tell Lies for a Living

I like watching magicians, particularly close up magic. I know it's trickery, but I want to believe in the tricks - that's part of the fun for me. I don't want the magician to falter or make mistakes, I want them to smoothly cheat and con me, preferably with a flourish.

Fiction is all about telling lies. Our readership is primed to believe our lies, just as I want to believe the magician. But our lies have to be believable lies. How to do this?

1. Be specific
There's a game you can play with a group. Write down two true things about yourself, and one lie, then read them out. The others have to guess the lie. We did this in class the other week, and the lies that were most successful were the ones that were filled with specific detail. Not, 'I go to Rome every year for my holidays', but 'I've stayed in the Albergo al Sole off the Campo dei Fiori in central Rome every year for the past six years.' The detail convinces.

2. Be consistent
I'm a qualified bricklayer. True. People are amazed, because it's unexpected - I don't look like a brickie (and of course, I'm not, I don't do it professionally and I got my City & Guilds certificate ages ago). If you were writing about a fictional character like me, you couldn't suddenly plonk the bricklaying fact into conversation unless it came with an explanation which matched the character.

3. Don't let the reader blink
Every time the reader has to check something they've read you've potentially lost them. The reading experience should be so smooth they hardly notice it happening. That means, no clunky sentences or incorrect words. No non-sequiturs. No confusion about who is thinking or saying something, or what anybody is doing at a particular time. Every time a reader is reminded that they're reading you might lose them. Edit, edit, edit. Get feedback, and edit some more. It's the only way to eliminate the glitches.

Writing fiction is like performing a magic trick. The reader wants to believe in the magic, it's up to you to practice until it appears easy.

NEW!!! I've finally got round to organising some course dates....
How to WRITE a Novel: London 3rd May/Birmingham 7th May/
Exeter 21st May
How to SELL a Novel: London 24th May/Exeter 4th June/


Karen said...

Great advice. I've read a few books where I've had to keep going back to check who said what and why and who was related to who, and given up in the end!

Sarah Duncan said...

Thanks Karen. I hate those books that just end up confusing me because they wander around - Star of the Sea did that for me, but I know loads of people loved it.