Tuesday, February 9, 2010

To Tell The Truth

We're all taught telling the truth is the best path. Truth is good, etc. The reality of day to day life is different. We all lie. We just justify it in different ways. "If I told her the truth, I would hurt her feelings," or "It's not a big lie," or any number of other ways. It's a long accepted fact that very few people want an honest answer to the question "Does this outfit make me look fat?" if that answer would be a resounding "yes".

My characters lie all the time. Some lie because of their own agendas. Some lie because of societal pressures. Some just like to lie for fun. Often, they lie because they're afraid.

There's also the issue of self-honesty. How often do we lie to ourselves? Some people are able to take a step back and view themselves honestly, even when they know the answers might not be the most flattering. They accept their motives weren't the purest. Others can't do this. They have to see themselves as good, regardless of what their actions may say.

My characters suffer from the same dilemma. Some see a true reflection in the mirror and others' view is distorted. I think this makes them all a bit more human and, hopefully, a bit more relatable to readers.

No one is pure evil (well, some are). No one is pure good. No one tells the truth all the time. Anyone in a relationship knows a few little white lies makes certain days go smoother. Even people with the best possible intentions can roll in the mud once in a while.

It's been my experience that when someone says "I did it for the best" usually means they've done something questionable. Maybe it was for the best. Maybe it was for their best.

Are your characters truth-tellers all the time? Maybe they should lie. Just a little.

There are only two ways of telling the complete truth - anonymously and posthumously. ~Thomas Sowell

It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place.
~Henry Louis Mencken

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened.
~Winston Churchill


  1. This post goes well with my post today, lol.

    So agree - people lie all the time and unless your character is Superman he or she should at the very least tell little white lies, hmm?

    Marvin D Wilson

  2. Thought provoking questions, Elspeth. Sometimes my characters lie. More often they don't reveal the truth. Sometimes it's by omission, others it's by dodging the issue. Both forms of a lie, but not a bald-faced one. But in my WIP, there is one character who lies almost every time he opens his mouth. He's not onstage very long.

  3. Elspeth - What a fascinating topic!! My characters most definitely lie. Most of them lie to get out of trouble, or to be less suspicious, but they do lie. Most of them are quite aware of it, too. It's an interesting question, that, about lying to oneself, too. I think that we all do that, and the question is how much aware we are of it. As usual, delicious food for thought in your post...

  4. Old Silly; It does go well with your post today! Karma.

    Carol; A constant lier would get rather annoying. Lies by omission are great, and a fantastic conscience-soother as well.

    Margot; I think characters have to lie occasionally, if only to keep the twists and turns alive. I'm so glad you liked the post.

  5. So interesting. My fictional characters are always juggling between what they really think and what they say--that is certainly social reality.

    What I've been wondering a lot about lately, though, is truth in memoir writing, which has to be constructed to some extent, but how do you convey your own story truthfully? What gives your voice authority? I have some answers to this as a journalist, but I'm at sea with other more personal kinds of writing.

  6. Martha; I would venture, in memoir writing, the entire point of the writing is to tell the truth. It may not always be pretty, but it's what happened. I believe memoir writers have to take ownership of the history and that ownership will give their voice authority.

  7. Really enjoyed the post, Elspeth. Loved the Churchill quote.

    I try to let my characters be as honest about themselves as possible. Nobody is perfect, and outside of romance or other genres that have bigger-than-life characters, I think the more human they are they more we relate to them as readers.

  8. If our characters don't fib/lie occasionally or keep secrets, they're most likely not believable, since we all do it.

    Straight From Hel

  9. Maryann; As a result of all the research I've done for my books, I have a thing for Churchill. A very great and very human man.

  10. I have a character in my current wip, an 11-year-old girl, who tells a series of lies about who she is and why she's traveling alone. She lies to protect herself.

    In the end, isn't that why any of us tell lies -- to protect ourselves? Even when we avoid telling someone an unpleasant truth and say we don't want to hurt her feelings, we do it partially to avoid feeling guilty.

  11. Patricia; As I said, many lie because they're afraid. It's not always a bad thing.

  12. Interesting post. Without some type of lying, there would be no mystery.

  13. Great post! I think lies are the basis of conflict in a lot of stories, especially humour based, sitcoms, romantic comedies...

  14. LOVE those quotes!

    I'm a terrible liar, although on my post today, I've been told I'm doing it quite well. Hmmm... :)

    My MCs both lie - especially near the beginning of the book. As they get to know & trust each other, telling the truth comes a little more easily.

  15. Some of my characters are definitely liars. For some their lives depend on lies.
    How's this for a twist? In my soon to be published work, my most honest character is also the most evil.


    Publish or Perish

  16. Some of my characters lie but most of them use the truth like a battering ram. They really haven't conquered the notion of tact and they tend to find that using selective truths can get them further than lies.

  17. My MC is lying every day. He knows it and he has to do it to maintain his freedom. Is it for the best? I leave that up to the reader. I suppose it depends on your theory of justice.

    Great quotes!
    Writing Prompt Wednesdays today on my blog!


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