A Nasty Piece of Work

Today, gentle readers, we are going to talk about those nasty pieces of work who are not what you would call exemplary figures. Nasty but necessary, because if they didn’t abound, dance around, roam the story seeking whom they may devour, from off whom would you bounce your protagonist? You need that nasty as a foil to show the excellent qualities of your hero(ine).

Protagonists today are not cut from the same cloth as the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy types of yesteryear. They aren’t perfect goody two-shoes. And though they are are still cut from better quality cloth than our antagonists, they can and will lie. Every last character, the good, the bad and the ugly, from the matriarch or patriarch down to the toddler who shakes his head when asked if his diaper is dirty, lies. And it’s not limited to characters on the written page. Fiction is taken from fact and lying is universal. Did you know that on any given day one lies, or is lied to, from ten to over one hundred times?

But we can use that. We can make our good guys lie only about little things, this makes them more believable, and even likeable. We can make our bad guys lie about big things, or, if they are pathological liars, about everything. This makes them more believable, more despicable, more heinous. Whatever you need them to be.

Sometimes the lie is prefaced with one of these old gems: ‘believe me’, ‘honestly’, or, ‘to tell the truth I. . .’, etc.

Sometimes the lie comes with too much baggage in the belief that more exaggeration will belie the lie. Methinks he doth protest too much, someone once said.

Sometimes the lie is delivered with a smile or a warm hearted chuckle. Watch for description of the eyes. Does the sincerity of the spoken word extend to the window of the mind?

Oftentimes the liar, in preparation to putting the big one over on his/her interrogator, will repeat the question, hoping to buy time, ridicule the questioner, or express unbelief.

It’s up to the reader to be as discerning as possible. Look for clues and examine the characters. Go into your next book with open eyes. You can’t expect the author to come right out and say so-and-so is such-and-such. What fun would that be?

All these tricks of the writer’s trade are used to inform the reader who can be trusted and who can’t. Be wary the moment a character darkens the page of the mystery you’ve picked up. This becomes even more enjoyable when the author has penned an unreliable narrator.

Good recent reads about lying: Liane Moriarty’s “Big Little Lies”, and Tana French’s “The Secret Place.”

About Eleanor Ingbretson

Native New Yorker. Transplanted to New Hampshire years ago, but still considered a flatlander by the neighbors. Writer of fantasy and mystery and whatever else takes my fancy.

Posted on April 13, 2015, in Eleanor Ingbretson, Good Reads, writing and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Ahh…my favorite–the unreliable narrator, especially in “The Lace Reader” by Brunonia Barry. My goal is to write a novel with one.


  2. When Rhett Butler said that to Scarlett do you think he really meant it.?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. My favorite rattle of the snake is the opening phrase, “Frankly….” When I hear that, especially from a politician, I check my wallet.

    Liked by 1 person

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