Friday, March 02, 2007

Okay, I'm Telling a Joke . . .

I don't normally do this, but I have to pass on a joke I got in an e-mail from my grandmother. Here goes:

Brian invited his mother over for dinner. During the course of the meal, Brian's mother couldn't help but notice how beautiful Brian's roommate, Jennifer, was. Brian's Mom had long been suspicious of a relationship between Brian and Jennifer, and this had only made her more curious.

Over the course of the evening, while watching the two interact, she started to wonder if there was more between Brian and Jennifer than met the eye.

Reading his mom's thoughts, Brian volunteered, "I know what you must be thinking, but I assure you Jennifer and I are just roommates."

About a week later, Jennifer came to Brian saying, "Ever since your mother came to dinner, I've been unable to find the beautiful silver gravy ladle. You don't suppose she took it, do you?"

Brian said, "Well, I doubt it, but I'll send her an e-mail just to be sure."

So he sat down and wrote:

"Dear Mom:

I'm not saying that you "did" take the gravy ladle from the house, I'm not saying that you "did not" take the gravy ladle. But the fact remains that one has been missing ever since you were here for dinner.

Love, Brian"

Several days later, Brian received an email back from his mother that read:

"Dear Son:

I'm not saying that you "do" sleep with Jennifer, I'm not saying that you "do not" sleep with Jennifer. But the fact remains that if Jennifer is sleeping in her own bed, she would have found the gravy ladle by now.

Love, Mom"

Hehe. I laughed really loud.

But something struck me; how quick are we to believe that we are carrying off a lie? And how transparent are we actually?

The really does relate to writing.

How often do we see a main character (good and bad) lie to someone as a plot device?

And how often is that lie as transparent as a newly Windexed sliding door?

But somehow, whoever the MC is lying to, believes it and Ta-da!! you have conflict!

But it's not real conflict. Why? Because there's one person you haven't fooled. That's right, the reader.

Now, cliches abound everywhere, but for the moment I'm going to pick on romance (no offense, I write it too.:)) How many of us have read the romance where the heroine decide the hero would be better off without him and despite the fact that yesterday they had a rock solid relationship of trust and love, today she tearfully whispers, "I don't love you anymore." The hero immediately believes her, leaves with his shattered heart in tow, and we spend the rest of the book trying to get them back together again.

Except that the way she lies to him is so transparent even a child could spot it. And the hero is so gullible she probably could have added, "Oh, and your tennies are untied," and the hero would have looked down at his hip boots that have no laces at all and said, "Huh?"

Doesn't it just make you roll your eyes and want to throw your book across the room?!?!?

On the other hand, when lies are well done, they can be stunning/devastating/suicidal/earth shaking . . . you get the idea. But you have to have so many elements to make a lie good. You have to have a justifiable reason for lying, you have to lie in such a way that it is understandable that the person being lied to would believe them, and the person being lied to must have some justification for believing the lie. Without those elements, lies fall flat on their faces.

I'll give you an example. I am reading "The Surgeon," by Tess Gerritsen (new author of the week, yea! She writes horrifying medical thrillers. Not for the weak of stomach.) Quick sum up, we have an emotionally fragile rape victim who is now being targeted by a killer. She is slowly falling in love with one of the cops in the investigation. The cop's partner has a crush on this guy, gets jealous, and reports her partner to the supervisor. The cop gets send on an out of town assignment to give him some distance from the victim. Before he is allowed to explain himself to his new love, the jealous female partner find her first. Jealous partner insinuates to victim paramour that male cop just doesn't want to see her. Victim is shattered and doubts her feelings.

Why does this work? First, the female cop has a reason to tell the lie. She's jealous, but powerless to keep the two lovers from having feelings for each other. All she can do is plant discord. Second, she lies well. She doesn't out and say, he doesn't care for you, she simply insinuates that leaving town was his choice and that if he wanted to call her, he would have. And thirdly, she has a lot of reasons to believe it. It's the first guy she's let into her life since the rape, she's been very scared and protectiveness is often mistaken for affection, and there was some alcohol involved. Also, it was just after their first night together--they didn't have some rock-solid love going on. It was a timid, tentative first time.

And you totally ache for them! No! Don't believe it! She's conning you! Stupid cop, disobey order and call her and explain! Don't let this happen.

Also (and I personally think this is important) this lie and the drama it creates are far from the center of the story. The plot is not driven by a lie--it's only a side plot.

So how about you? Example of lies you love and lies you love to hate in literature? Movies? You family . . . no wait, we don't want to hear about your family.

Anyway, thoughts?



Anonymous said...

I love this especially in comedy because we, the audience, get to know who is lying and who isn't. Even if you just suspect the character of being dishonest it can be a lot of fun.
Loved the joke BTW.

ChumleyK said...

I feel like this post is targeting me because the story I'm writing has a lot of lying in it. When I go back on edits, I'm definitely going to have to check to see how much of it feels forced. Great post today!!

Levi Nunnink said...

Excellent post.

I think that when writing a lie, you have to believe it. For example I'm writing a character who's going to turn to the dark side. But right now I really like him - I don't want him to go bad. If he told me a lie I'd probably believe it because he's a good guy. The lies I don't buy are when some side character who I have no reason to trust jumps out and tells me a big one. I'd real life I'd say, "thanks but I'm going to get a second opinion". But if someone I love and respect lies to me I'm going to buy it.

BTW, here's an odd thing about me: I'm horrible at telling lies but I'm good at faking things. Weird.

ORION said...

We're writers...we ALL lie.

Maprilynne said...

Well, uh, Pat . . . I guess you got me there.;)

tomdg said...

In defence of the undefensible, perhaps ... we men are generally simple beings who have long ago given up on the idea that we might be able to understand how women think. If the heroine tells the hero she doesn't love him any more, and he doesn't understand why, that won't necessarily mean he smells a rat.

I'm sure a lot of guys have been in the situation where the woman he loves tells him the relationship is over, and he has no idea why. (The reason is probably obvious, but we're ignorant). He'll then learn from experience that pressing her for an explanation or trying to talk her out of it is not the right thing to do.

But I do agree with your point really. I guess for me it's a problem with characterisation. I read a romance novel once and I felt both the characters in it were being totally obtuse - it was hard to sense any motivation for their actions other than that the plot demanded it. If the characters were better described, we could have reached the point where we knew that the only way the woman would respond at this point is to lie, and that the only way the man can receive that is to believe it.

That from my vast experience of having read, what, one romantic novel written since 1830 :)

M. G. Tarquini said...

The interesting thing about lying is that people say stupid sh*t all the time. The trick is to make it real.