Unless a fairy doomed you from birth to only tell the truth (like Tomas in Power of a Princess) you are a constant liar. Just like me and everyone else in the world. The interesting thing about lies is that most of us think we are honest—we underestimate how often we lie to protect our self-esteem. This means that your characters need to be liars too. But just like us, our characters always lie for a reason. And just like us, they often don’t realise they’re doing it!
The most important lies are the lies our characters tell themselves. The primary lie is your character’s fatal flaw and it is the best lie because it is the pinnacle of your character’s arc: without this lie, your character has nothing to overcome internally. They cannot change.
Other important lies are the ones characters tell each other. This is where the conflict happens. White lies are the most prevalent—they allow your characters to have friends and relationships, while allowing the reader to peek into their souls and see who they really are. For a little more fun, maybe your character refuses to tell these white lies, creating conflict. Or only tells them to people they truly care about.
Lies are fun because they come in shapes and sizes unique to your characters, and can be used as a device to elevate conflict. The small lie can suddenly escalate, snowball-style, into a truly sticky situation. We’ve all been there! The big lie can shape your character’s entire world—especially if they’re running from a dark past.
Other lies can help paint the world of the story. For example, euphemisms are rife in the West (“before she passed away, my big-boned friend was between jobs and had a tendency to be economical with the truth”). Similarly, double-speak is the lifeblood of politics and marketing. These cultural mendacities can be used to great effect.
The most important thing to remember when kicking off this fib-fest, is to make sure the character reason behind the lies are well-founded and therefore authentic. Are they lying for personal gain? So others view them more favourably? To avoid punishment? To make themselves feel better? Because of past trauma? Is your character a pathological liar who believes their own lies?
Once you have established your characters and their various layers of deceit, it’s time to introduce the kicker: who believes the lies? And why?