by Zoë Sharp
Last week, we went out and finally managed to buy a new car. Well, not a new new car, but new to us. And that has means braving the world of the Used Car Salesman.
This has been a frustrating experience, because, what with the economy being in the state it’s in, we decided to tighten our budget for a new motor, and that has meant we’re not exactly dealing with the cream of the crop. So, off we went to the Autotrader website and entered our particular requirements. From the thousands of cars for sale across the whole of the UK, this narrowed things down to a final choice of just six. Which means it’s very much a sellers’ market.
You might have thought, in that case, that there was no need for embroidery in sales’ technique. You might have thought that a simple, “It is what it is, but there’s not many of them about, so take it or leave it,” kind of attitude would work best. Oh no. That would be too easy.
Instead, they have to lie to you.
Now, I expect to be lied to. Not just by used car salesman, but generally. It’s a fact of life. Sad but true.
Let’s be honest about this, if you’ll forgive the irony. Little lies make the world go round. Nobody likes being told they look older, unless it’s a sixteen-year-old girl, dressing to try and buy alcohol on a Friday night. Nobody likes to be greeted with the words, “Gosh, you’ve put so much weight on, I hardly recognised you!” at their school reunion, unless they spent their entire academic career suffering from anorexia.
So, everybody lies. Sometimes with the best of intentions. Sometimes by omission. But everybody does it. From little white ones to huge whoppers. With clear intent to deceive or entirely by accident. In adoration or with malice aforethought.
But what I object to are people who lie badly. The ones who say, for instance, “This car’s immaculate. You won’t be disappointed,” and trick you into a 260-mile round trip to view something that’s been owned by somebody who patently believes parking is a full-contact sport, and who appears to have thrown up all over the passenger seat, which is as good an argument as I can think of against perforated leather trim.
Just about every panel on this particular vehicle was a different colour, and some of them no longer fitted quite the way they should. And when I asked the salesman just how bad an accident it had been in, his Teflon-shouldered answer was that the car had passed its HPI check. “Yes,” I said, “but that just proves it wasn’t a write-off, not that it hasn’t had a major thump and been repaired.” Quick as a flash he came back with, “But everything this age has had some paint.” Yeah, and some of it even matches the original …
The business of lying is fascinating. Some people can do it without a flicker, a constant stream of invention without repetition or hesitation. The art of the great lie, of course, is one where the person being lied to never realises that fact. The art of the great liar, on the other hand, is someone who can spout blatant untruths with such conviction that the person being lied to knows it full well, but begins to doubt their own understanding of the truth.
As writers of crime fiction, we have to understand the art of the lie. Some characters, inevitably, will lie during the course of the story. I remember being pulled up by one editor for making a character lie too well. She wanted some better indication that this person was not telling my protagonist the truth. And that’s a tricky one. I’ve come across some brilliant liars, and some lousy ones. Making someone an OK liar is much more difficult.
At ThrillerFest in NYC in 2007, Christine Kling moderated the Liars’ Panel, where she got her panellists to tell the audience something about themselves that was not well known. Some surprising facts emerged, including that one author could not read or write until they were seven, and another had once been arrested on suspicion of murder. And then Chris told us that most of these authors were lying and we had to separate fact from fiction. It was surprisingly difficult, so does that mean the average trusting human being is very bad at detecting barefaced lies, or that that fiction writers are simply good liars? Do we, by definition, spend our lives constructing intricate webs of what are, essentially, lies?
How aware are you of the lies contained within the story when you write? When you read? And what’s the best – or the worst – lie you’ve either ever told, or had told to you?
On a slightly different note, I am very pleased to have been included in to a new short story anthology that’s out next week from Crème de la Crime and edited by the delightful Lynne Patrick. CRIMINAL TENDENCIES has tales from an array of British crime writers, all of which have been contributed for the benefit of The National Hereditary Breast Cancer Helpline, The Genesis Appeal (the only UK charity entirely dedicated to the prevention of breast cancer) and The National Breast Cancer Coalition in the States. My story, ‘Off Duty’ is a Charlie Fox tale that slots into the time frame between the last two series books and tells what happens should you be foolish enough to try and get between a girl and her motorcyle.
This week’s Word of the Week is zyxt, which is a Kentish dialect word meaning to see. And not a bad score in Scrabble, either …
Apologies in advance, also. By the time this posts I shall be on a ferry to Northern Ireland but will try to respond to comments as soon as I can.
First, I look forward to reading that new anthology.
A liars panel? We had one of those at the conference I attended in November. Some REALLY interesting facts came out. And amazingly, the ones you thought sounded just shady enough to be a lie turned out to be the truth.
And you know what they say about lies, Z. There are three types:
1) White lies2) Damn lies3) Statistics
To protect the innocent, I can’t tell you THE best lie I ever told ;-]
Thanks for that. It’s a great anthology and in a very good cause.
OK, so you won’t admit to the lie YOU told, but what about the best or worst lie ever told to you?
The best lie told to me would be the one I still haven’t uncovered. 🙂
The love of the lie is why I wrote my new book, Liars Anonymous. It’s a fascinating subject, yes? Unless practiced by political figures in media interviews.
My best/worst lies? The ones I tell myself.
I adore the idea that as writers, we’re paid to sit in all pajamas all day and lie. Because really, every novel is a fabrication, a series of lies strung together into a whopper of a story.
“The insurance will cover that.”
“This won’t hurt much.”
“Don’t worry, I know what I’m doing.”
Love the blog, Zoë — one of my favorite (new) characters in book 3 lies… just convincingly enough that the people around him question their own take on things. I loved writing him.
I like the idea of a character lying, and the reader not knowing. or at least so the reader has to figure it out. It’s a great way to put in a twist or some misdirection.
“Gee I thought Steve said Ed wasn’t there.”
“Steve lied, dummy.”
I told a big lie in THE UNSEEN and then totally forgot it was a lie until the main character discovered it herself.
That was wild.
I lie online all the time. I don’t think it’s a great idea to have everyone be able to Google everything about you. Better to live several different stories at a time.
In fiction as in in real life, I can sense most lies. I may not immediately know why I think it’s a lie. I do feel unease though that something is not quite right.Once a lie is on my personal radar I weave this into my knowledge of a character or person and look deeper as to their motivation. In fiction this gives me that sense of possible pathways an author may take me, in real life, it’s a useful heads up.
I’d add to Toni’s excellent list of lies,
‘You will feel mild discomfort.’
I also second Louise that the best/worst lies concern myself. I truly need a sense of humour about this sometimes…or would be barking.
OK, so what’s the WORST lie anyone’s ever told you? ;-]
I, too, am a brilliant liar to myself – sadly. And I can’t wait to read LIARS ANONYMOUS!
Sorry to come late to this, everyone, but we’ve only just got to our hotel in Carrickfergus, having spent the day on a photoshoot in Armagh, which was made more entertaining by being interrupted part way through by armed police, who’d seen the flashguns going off and wanted to know what we were about …
I’ll pass on the pyjamas bit, but otherwise I’m with you all the way! And the more proficiant liars we are, in effect, the better ;-]
Love the lies. To that you can always add the old one:
“Of course I love you …”
How convincing a liar you make your characters is an interesting one, isn’t it? Too convincing and the reader feels cheated that they couldn’t possibly have guessed the truth.
Or could they … ?
Yes, the business of lying, and how you tell a character is doing it, without making it obvious, is a careful balance. And now, of course, you have me intrigued. Who’s Ed? And why did Steve lie?
I love the idea of living out several different lives on line. Wasn’t that a Brad Paisley song? How do you keep all the stories straight?
And wonderful to only realise you’d had your character lie well after the event. Always nice when you can surprise yourself during the writing of a book, isn’t it?
How useful to have a personal inbuilt lie-dar.
I like the lie. And another:
“You don’t look a day older than the day we met …”
Lying to yourself is OK, in moderation. The trouble starts when you begin to believe them … ;-]
The worst lie probably started, “Dad, don’t you want to have some of your coffee? There’s nothing special about it.” (Big, expectant, self-satisfied grin.)
Great post, Zoe.
I was a marvelous liar as a kid and have worked hard to become less good at it . . .
And as I’ve become a happier person, I’ve become more gullible too. It’s damn inconvenient but wanting to believe the best of most people still pans out well most of the time.
I used to babysit for a family who had three terrible small boys. I remember one time they actually brought me a cup of coffee (a suspicious event in itself) and had to keep stirring it as they carried it through from the kitchen.
This was because, when they stopped stirring it, the chilli powder they’d added kept floating to the surface …
I, too, have a tendency to believe what I’m told. Not sure about being happier, though ;-]
Sorry to reply so late to these last couple of posts. Still in Northern Ireland. Had another visit from an interested policeman during today’s shoot, too. I must just look shifty …