Making a Lie Count: Developing Dialogue that Matters

Making a Lie Count

Contributing writer Savanah Burns wrote this post offering advice on writing convincing dialogue for your characters.

I had a friend once tell me that it is weird how we can never really know someone because we are not them, we are not omniscient, and we are not omnipresent. Yet, through our limited lens, we feel as though we know someone. Often, people are more than what we perceive. So, when we talk to them, there are countless things that go unsaid. So, what is left unsaid? How about someone’s lies, motives, secrets, and the truth?

Take these two scenes for example:

 “What’s wrong?” asked Sally.

“Richard broke up with me,” said Maya.

Again? “Oh, no,” said Sally. “Are you okay?”

“No. I know everyone is going to tell me I told you so. I just wish I had support.”

“Well, I support you.” I mean, I have to, or else I’ll be pushed away like everyone else.

“I know, and I’m glad I have you, but I miss him. I’m so stupid for falling for someone I can’t have. He was never going to leave her.”

“I’m sure he was just scared of getting caught.”

 “I saw him at work with his ring on,” said Maya.

“Ouch.” He’s married, what do you expect? “So, y’all didn’t talk, like at all?” asked Sally.

“We passed each other in the hall. There was a moment.”

“Oh?” Said, Sally, as she waited for more.

“He gave me those eyes,” said Maya.

“So, y’all are back together?” asked Sally. I hope not. He’s too old for her. He just uses her.

“I don’t know.” Maya finished her makeup. “We’re going to meet and talk.”

Scene 2:

When Sally came home, Maya was sitting at the breakfast table in the kitchen. “Hey,” said Sally. “What are you doing?” Maya had just shoved something into a small, white envelope that looked like it was from the bank. It was then pulled from the table out of sight.

“Nothing,” said Maya.

“You seem chipper. Did you just get back from seeing Richard?

“Yeah.”

“I’m guessing you and Dick worked it out.”

“Yeah, you know I love him,” said Maya.

“I know,” said Sally. Then she went upstairs to read.

Tip #1: Lies

There is always a line between fact and fiction. We experience it when we speak to others, or about other people.

Maya lies to herself in thinking Richard loves her, and she also lies to Richard in letting him think she doesn’t use him.

Sally lies to Maya in order to be the support that Maya feels she does not have.

Richard lies to his wife and co-workers, so he can be with someone younger.

Tip #2: Motive

What does someone want? What drives them? Why do they do, what they do?

When someone does something, we don’t always have all the information on hand to understand why they did what they did, or why they said what they said. As one writes, dialogue should portray this gap of knowledge. For example, Maya wants Richard because she loves him, but at the end, we find it might be that she wants the perks that come with being with him.

Other times, we have the information because we know what a character is thinking. For example, Sally lies about how she feels about her friend’s situation because she doesn’t want to hurt her friend’s feelings, nor does she want to be pushed out of her friend’s life.

Lastly, sometimes we don’t have all the facts and only secondary information, so it becomes hard to determine someone’s lie and someone’s motive. For example, according to Sally, Richard wants to be with Maya for her youth. But, according to Maya, he wants her because he loves her. The ambiguity allows the reader to decide what is more believable until more information surfaces. This is information an author can play with further developing the dynamic. However, the author needs to be aware of expectations and responses.

Tip #3: Something to Hide

Dialogue can offer information showing how someone feels. For instance, Sally discloses how she feels she will lose her friend if she is honest. In the same breath, dialogue shows what goes unsaid, especially when someone’s action doesn’t match what they say. This presents a scenario where someone doesn’t want something to be known. For instance, Maya’s actions to quickly shove money into an envelope and then hidden in her lap under the table shows what she is hiding; she doesn’t want to admit that she may not love Richard, but what Richard has to give her. Or so, this is what Sally suspects.

Tip #4: The Delay

Information that gives in conversation does not always have to be straightforward and immediate. In our example, Maya does not outright say she wants to be with an older man because he has money. But, towards the end of the scene, this information is thrown out there. It can be revealed later. There was a delay in this information because of the lie.

Another thing to consider is what happens if these scenes are further developed. Writers, to generate more plot, consider having the lies revealed to other characters and address them. Sally could have easily said something about the money. Why didn’t she?

It would have contradicted her motive. However, if the story were more developed and Sally’s motives had changed, then the money and both Sally’s and Maya’s lies could be addressed. Lies tend to surface anyway. A writer can use this to their advantage. They can take any of their characters’ lies and motives, and bring them to the surface so that they can further create tension, more conflict, more plot, more character development, and even resolution.

In conclusion, having a character lie helps define and shape their character. Lies can help provide readers with information on the relationship’s dynamic, illustrate emotions, show character’s personalities, show tensions, show desires, and more. Using lies can create characterization, conflict, plot, and other literary elements. It is one way to develop one’s narrative. Consider these things the next time you write.

SAVANAH BURNS is a young poet from Huntsville. She studied English and History at Sam Houston State University, where she completed a short novella for her honors thesis. Her writing has been featured in Beacon, an undergraduate magazine, and HistoricalMX, an online historical journal. Her poem, “Starry Night,” won first prize in 2016 for a college and university contest held by The Academy of American Poets, which included an online publication. She is currently pursuing an M. F. A. in Creative Writing with an emphasis in Poetry at SHSU. She is a new addition to the Texas Review Press as a graduate assistant, as well as a new addition to the Gordian Review as its poetry editor. She is excited for what lies ahead.

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Happy New (Literary) Year

Happy New (Literary) Year

Contributing writer Laura Brackin writes about the New Year and setting goals as a writer and reader!

We’ve done it!

We successfully completed another year and now we are looking at a new calendar with twelve fresh months of possibilities. This is the time when many people start to set intentions and make plans for what lies ahead; we think about what we want our lives to look like moving forward.

As readers and writers, whether or not we are professionals in these fields, we benefit from looking at ways we can get more out of these activities. There are a few strategies you can incorporate into how you envision your new literary year.

For the Reader

Are we setting reading goals? Really? What happened to reading for fun? Well, the truth is, reading can be more fun when you set a few goals. Thinking about how you read and planning accordingly gets you more involved in what you’re reading, which ultimately makes for a better experience.

First of all, it is not uncommon for readers to set a book count goal at the beginning of each year. I have a friend who set a forty-five book goal for last year and ended up reading sixty-two. I set and read a twenty-five book goal. Your number, as compared to your friends’, doesn’t matter. The thing is to make it something that is reasonable. For me, forty-five isn’t reasonable, because of all the other demands on my time; for someone else, 100 books (two per week) may be a comfortable pace. You will have to decide for yourself how many books you think will work.

While you’re thinking about your book count goal for 2018, allow for time to journal about what you’re going to be reading. This practice is one that will make this next literary year unusually fulfilling for you, if it’s not something you’ve done before. When you read, keep a notebook or journal with you specifically for the purpose of recording things you get from your book. Books inspire, they bring up memories or remind you of something you need to do. Often they will touch something in us that makes us want to try something new or may give us an idea of something we’d like to research and learn more about. A certain sentence might strike you as beautiful, meaningful, or smart, and having a journal handy will give you somewhere to jot all these things down. If you write on the books you read as you go, it will also help you when you talk to your friends (or book club or potential employer) about what you are reading.

One last thing to consider about how you look at reading in the new year is the importance of reading, even the things that you may not like as much. Now, I’m not suggesting you purposefully seek out books that you know don’t hold interest for you, or those that you suspect may be poorly written. What I mean is simply that you finish every book you start, even if it isn’t one you like. The benefit of this is that if you are journaling as mentioned above, you will find that even in the books you don’t care for so much there are talking points—things that can help you develop ways to look at literature and discuss it intelligently. If you don’t like something, reading it through will help you figure out why. Is it the way the author writes? Is it the subject matter? Is it too experimental? Are there too many clichés? Do you think something else from this same author might be better? It is not wasted time, and you will get some good insight from finishing every book you start, whether you like it or not.

For the Writer

As writers, we must also be readers. Therefore, all of the above applies to us as well. Actively reading will only help us write better. In fact, keeping up with contemporary writers and what they are doing is important to us and the things we write. We must also revisit the classics periodically to remind us of how we got to where we are today. If, as a writer, you are not reading, this must be added to your goal planning project right away.

The next simple thing to plan for is to write on a daily basis. The obvious, in-a-perfect-world way to do this is simply to schedule out time for it. Put it in your planner every day, whether you have one hour or six that you can devote to it. Of course, it’s not always possible to account for your writing time like that; in an earlier blog, I looked at ways writers can eek out some time, even just a few minutes, to get something on the page. On those days, if you only have the five minutes it takes for your coffee to brew, you can jot down a paragraph or a particularly perfect sentence that has been poking at you. The point is to keep doing it—every day. Again, you must set realistic goals with this. If you have family coming in next week, it may not be wise to schedule a couple of hours a day to write, as it’s likely you won’t have that time. Definitely don’t set yourself up for failure with this.

If you are not part of a writing group, this is something of great benefit that you can put on your weekly agenda. Find another two or three writers, whether they are friends of yours or people you haven’t met yet who are also looking for other writers to share with, and set up a meeting time and place where you can all read and critique each other’s work. It is important in these groups to be honest and kind in your critiques. Writers need to know what is working well in their craft, as well as what isn’t. To have other writers give you feedback, and for you to do the same for them, keeps everyone’s reading and writing skills sharp.

When you are sitting there with your planner or calendar in front of you, making lists and deciding what you want from this year, think about these suggestions. Goals are motivating; they are like little promises people make to themselves about the future. Be sure to set realistic ones that will keep you focused and prompt you to get involved with your reading and writing. Find a new favorite author. Finish a new manuscript.

Make 2018 the best literary year yet!

LAURA BRACKIN is a student at Sam Houston State University where she studies in the MFA program for Creative Writing, Editing, and Publishing. She works part time with the Texas Review Press and desires to work as an editor upon graduation, while also building a career as a prose writer. She lives in The Woodlands with her husband, two teenaged kids, and her English pointer.

Exercising the Writing Muscle

Exercising the Writing Muscle

Contributing writer Laura Brackin gives some advice and tips on how to continue developing your writing skills and getting in that daily writing practice.

Professionals don’t become great in their specialty because they made As in school. While this helps them become the professionals they want to be, developing their skills doesn’t stop once they receive their diploma. Read more

Accepting Rejection

Accepting Rejection

Contributing writer Savanah Burns wrote this post offering advice on how to accept rejection in the world of writing.

A former creative writing professor of mine once explained said that she received a small card, no bigger than a business card, in the mail. On this little card, were the words, “Your submission was not accepted.” Read more

The (Too) Busy Writer

The (Too) Busy Writer

Contributing writer Laura Brackin gives some tips to help writers manage and maximize their writing time, even when life keeps you busy.

A common image of the writer is one where they sit with their laptop in an oversized, comfy chair, in front of a large picture window—with or without a sheer, gauzy window dressing of some kind, but either way, allowing entry for cheerful sunlight—a cup of steaming something, coffee, tea, on a small table beside them. This writer is happily spending their stress-free hours combining beautifully written sentences into a literary masterpiece. Feel free to substitute a large, mahogany desk for the oversized chair in this scenario; the visual is subjective on this point. The important constant is the leisurely life this image portrays: the writer as engulfed in their art, unperturbed. Read more