I’ve never had a problem with the issue of lying to one’s readers. It could be traced back to my high school speech class when my teacher gave us an example of a heartrending speech a former student had given. He had the class (including the teacher) in tears until the very end when he announced that not one word of what he had said was true. Everyone was shocked and the teacher gave him a very bad grade. It was a lesson to the entire class and all classes afterward –
Don’t Lie to Your Audience.
Naturally a memoir that’s full of lies isn’t going to sell because it would be pretty easy in today’s internet world to find the truth. Any kind of non-fiction that’s full of lies isn’t going to float. But what about fiction? Fiction in itself is a lie because the very definition of the word “fiction” is “an untrue story.”
So this rule doesn’t apply when writing fiction.
Wrong! It still applies.
An example of lying to your audience with fiction is merely the withholding of the truth within the story.
I recently finished reading Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and I have to admit that I was shocked and severely disappointed when I reached the end. She never has Poirot narrating his own stories so you never have Poirot’s thought process. Where would be the guesswork and intrigue on the reader’s part if they were privy to the genius of Poirot’s own thoughts? No fun there. Instead most of what I’ve read so far is either narrated by Hastings, Poirot’s faithful sidekick, or from another person who temporarily replaces Hastings.
The stories are told by that person’s account as if they were faithful documents of the investigation. The reader is given the facts of the proceedings along with a tinge of the narrator’s opinion on the meaning/importance of those facts. But what happens when the narrator is a lying s.o.b. but you don’t know it till the end?
I felt cheated! Lied to! Intentionally misled so that I’d never stand a chance in hell of realizing who the culprit was until Poirot could lay it all out for me in large bold words.
It’s one thing to have your narrator crazy or whatever. A crazy person doesn’t usually know they’re crazy so it’s not their fault when you find in the end that you can’t trust them. But to have the narrator in a detective novel be the murderer? He was writing everything out as if it was all true and that nothing was omitted. I think he even mentioned at one point that he had laid out all the facts for us to see. There were parts cut out here and there which seriously confused me and made me think Christie had failed at a new writing technique or got sloppy, but all-in-all I trusted my narrator because that’s what you do. I never dreamed that the missing bits were important and would incriminate him.
I’m sure many people will argue that this was a stroke of genius from her to keep her audience guessing until the very end. This book was quite popular and was even turned into a play – the first, I believe, of her books to be dramatized in fact. Obviously enough people thought she really pulled a fast one on them and they liked it. I, however, am not one of them.
That’s a cheap trick in my book.