Can You Tell A Lie?

Welcome to The Learning Curve. I am chronicling my journey as a new writer in hopes of inspiring you to put that bag of chips down, step away from the television, and tell the world a good story.

Can You Tell A Lie?

In the documentary post I made a couple of months ago (A Writers Truth), I mentioned that telling a good story requires the skill of an experienced liar. Well, I may not have put it exactly like that, but close enough. Why do some books succeed while others sit on the shelves gathering dust, or in Amazon’s case lazy little electrons that refuse to budge? Who knows? Perhaps it was the cover, or the title. It could have been the blurb didn’t sound interesting enough. For whatever the reasons, these books just didn’t appeal to an audience. Art is subjective. More on that in a moment. Let’s talk about truth and lies for a bit.

Most of us have grown up with parents or other adults who espoused the valiant nature of telling the truth. I’m not saying this is wrong, but it doesn’t help the aspiring politician or author in training. These folks need to know the difference between a truth and a lie, and then find a middle ground; a shade of gray if you will. Politicians who never lie rarely get elected, or so it would seem. An author who can’t convince an audience they are an ignorant bunch of muggles will not sell many books.

Magic does exist. Harry Potter and a host of other characters throughout history have proven it beyond a doubt. A book that can tell a convincing lie is a form of magic all its own. As a writer it’s important that you know how to lie, and how to do it well.

Everyone has a built in truth detector. Granted, some are more skilled at recognizing a load of BS than others, but we all have the ability to pick up on a blatant lie. The job of a writer is to take that blatant lie (an orphan boy will be summoned to a magical school and become a great wizard), and make it such a compelling story that we forget it was all a lie in the first place.

So the question is how do you tell a good lie? The answer may surprise you.

To craft the perfect lie you must first start with the truth. In the case of Harry Potter, the truth is about a boy who knew of no other existence than abuse, neglect and disdain. His family treated him as a second class citizen, an unwanted house-guest who didn’t even warrant his own room. Instead, he was forced to live in a closet under the stairs. That’s a harsh truth and one an audience can easily buy into. We are more than willing to suspend our disbelief by the time a magical adventure presents itself. We are willing to believe the lie.

You might call me crazy but in my heart I firmly believe the Harry Potter series would not have been as successful if scene one had opened with Harry at Hogwarts. Give people the truth, then intertwine the lies. A compelling lie begins with compelling characters.

Not a Harry Potter fan? No judgment here. It’s not for everyone. Like I said, art is subjective. The important thing is to know your audience. If you want to write about fairies, unicorns, and smart dogs that can direct people to poor Timmy down in the well, then chances are this type of reader does not peruse the Wall Street Journal over lunch.

How do you know who your audience is or whether your lie is good enough to sell a gazillion copies?

Good question Rush! Please tell us how to sell a megabagazillion copies of our book!

The answer is simple. Practice. Take your story and tell part of it to a friend, co-worker, or even a family member. Don’t tell them that it’s a story you wrote. Instead, let them believe you heard about it from the news, the Internet, or another friend. Obviously if your story has a dragon or vampire in it then this is doomed to failure unless…you leave out the fantastic parts and just give them the truth.

Make them fall in love with or hate the characters. Make them want to know more. If and when you can succeed at this then you know you have a story worth telling/selling. You will also find out how gullible they are, which you have to admit is kind of priceless if you think about it.

Author: K.D. Rush

KD Rush is a South Carolina native currently working on several short stories and his debut novel, The Guild Inc., a supernatural thriller. He documents his writing journey at his blog, and here at Indies Unlimited in a monthly column called The Learning Curve. He also tweets daily at @KD_Rush.

24 thoughts on “Can You Tell A Lie?”

  1. great advice. I’m writing a book myself based on my family, but I’m leaning toward telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing like the truth. I’ll just change the names to protect my life, who gives a sh*t about their privacy. Maybe, I should try parts of my story here, just to see if anybody bites, I need to sell books you know? 🙂

    1. Alessandra, you have spunk. I checked out your website and it’s obvious that if you focus your passion on writing then we’re all in for a treat. Your real life sounds better than some of the fiction I’ve read this year. 😉

    1. JD is perhaps the most honest writer I’ve ever met. There are grains of truth in every lie he tells. Hmmmm…it sounds odd, but I swear it’s the truth.

  2. Subtle, KD, very subtle. Wrap the lie in some truth; enfold the fantastic in a blanket of perfectly ordinary; open with something your audience can feel sympathy for, get the reader angry enough and they will want something magical to happen, or at least they will be open to something you offer (it doesn’t have to be magic if that’s not what you write) that will inject hope.

    An erudite post, KD, well done.

    1. Ahhh – Another honest writer I know.

      You my friend are dangerous. I have a secret theory that you run a cult or two, possibly somewhere in Indiana or Nebraska. If not, then you should ponder it. Your charisma and persuasive words will take you far. I’m already a believer.

    1. Thanks Brian! 😉 As Stephen Covey once said, “Begin with the end in mind,” and I did just that. I wrote the last paragraph (like I usually do) before I wrote the rest of the article. 😉

  3. This is really, really, really good advice. Really. You are one of only two people that I know that can explain things in a patient, clever way that is easy for me to understand. 🙂

  4. Terrific advice, my friend – it’s an odd thing that in telling a good story we sometimes have to make things seem more “real” to facilitate the suspension of disbelief in the readers. I think your book is going to be a great read buddy 🙂
    (and you want people to put down their bags of CRISPS, my friend – chips are never served in bags ;))

  5. Enjoyed your approach on this, KD :)) I admit I went off on a bit of a tangent when you mentioned ‘truth detector’…Monty Python? Cat detector van of the ministry of housinge…it was spelled like that on the van?…But I immediately pulled back to your excellent post.

    Imagination in combination with truth. Well said, my friend.

  6. KD,
    I thank you for encouraging me to lie. 🙂
    I love Harry Potter, and agree that the simplicity of the first book drew the reader in to the dark adventures of the future volumes.

    1. Lois, I remember reading the first book to my children, then getting so wrapped up in the story I had to purchase the other two books in the series. I’m not sure how many adult fans had book seven on pre-order, but I was one of them. 😉

      Thanks for the comment!

  7. KD, I love your take on this. You nailed it. What you say is, well, the truth. A good lie doesn’t work unless its grounded in truth. Your thoughts made me look at my own book, and ask that simple question, Is my “lie” based in truth.

    1. It’s the truth part, the honesty a writer is willing to put on the page that sets them apart. For a future post, it would be neat to pick three of my favorite books and try to pinpoint the truth behind the lies. 😉

      Thanks for the comment my friend.

    1. T.D. you are more than welcome to take and run with it. I have at least six other topics to cover before I could swing back around. Besides, I would love to read your take on it. Write on brother, write on.

  8. Hi K. D.,
    What great advice!
    My novels (Detective novels) are based on actual cases I have worked . . . then comes the “Dramatic License” . . . er, ah . . . lies.

    Thanks, you have anew Certified Fan!

    Michael Phelps
    David Janssen-My Fugitive (With Ellie Janssen) (4th. Edition-Hardcover)
    The Execution of Justice (Hardcover & E-Book)
    The Jockey’s Justice (E-Book)
    David Janssen-Our Conversations (Coming Soon)

  9. Ouch. 🙁 I’m a terrible liar. But then again, when I write I’m not being ‘me’ so hopefully that will make me a better storyteller even if I am a bad liar.

Comments are closed.