Author Features On Writing

How to Write Believable Liars

There are numerous types of narrators, and Alexis Bass has mastered one of the trickiest kinds: the believable liar. Her newest book, An Education in Ruin is a lush and sophisticated tale of scandal, love, and revenge. It is, of course, rife with a cast of compelling liars.

While we wait in anticipation for her next thriller to drop, we’re revisiting Alexis’s post from NaNoWrimo last year where she spills her secrets on how she crafted the characters from her debut novel, Happily and Madly, to be believable liars.

By Alexis Bass

I love writing characters that deal in deception and enjoy creating stories that expose them. In order to keep the many lies woven into Happily and Madly from unraveling, the characters had to be convincing—even when their behavior was outlandish. I adopted the following traits to make believable liars:

  • A strong motive. Even if it’s not revealed to the reader immediately, if a character believes that they have a good reason to lie—something that they believe truly justifies their dishonesty—then their actions will be more believable, and the conclusions that follow will be more satisfying. All of their moves will make sense in context.
  • Consistency. When a character stays on course to achieve their goals, their dishonesty becomes a trait that builds their character arc and gives us a better understanding of who they are, even if they are unpredictable in the things that they say and do. Their willingness to lie should come at the same costs.
  • Not above emotional manipulation. This is a strong tactic that not only shows the level of deception that the character is willing to participate in, but also gives the reader an idea of what one character might want or need directly from another character.
  • Not afraid to launch counterattacks when backed into a corner. The characters should be ready to defend their lies no matter the cost. Their motive shouldn’t be given up quickly. The strength behind these counterattacks also teaches us something about how high the stakes are for this character. 

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