As writers we are primed to believe that information is revealed to the reader through body language.
I was on BBC yesterday and came across this article that piqued my interest. It was titled “The best (and worst) ways to spot a liar.” Naturally, being the writer that I am, I clicked on it. As a writer, I found the article most illuminating. One my characters in my WIP, Spurn the Moon, is a liar. But I don’t want my reader to know that he’s a liar.
So therein is a dilemma: Do I make him have eyes that dart, skin that flushes, a voice that stammers? In other words, do I give him physical ticks or traits that identify him to a close reader as a liar?
Curious about what has become common knowledge concerning liars, I read this entire article in order to see what traits I should give this liar of mine. The article was quite illuminating. Essentially all that we consider traits of a liar are nothing more than the traits of the person talking. Touching the nose, lack of eye contact, flushing skin, etc., are not reliable lying tells. In fact, this article states that it would be better odds to flip a coin to tell if people are lying, if those are the “tells” you’re looking for.
What did this article say then? Talk to the person. Ask them open ended or “tactical” questions that allow the person to trap themselves in their lies. Catch them in something that you suspect to be false, and ask them to expound on it. Ask them to relate the incident in question backwards.
Now, obviously this last one is a great interrogation technique, and most likely I’m not going to have my MC ask another character to tell her backwards what he did that day. Something that obtuse would really draw attention to the fact that she suspects him to be a liar, not only to the other character, but to the reader. In most cases, that isn’t going to help me.
But it does show me where I can let the character trap himself. I can have him say something earlier in the novel which doesn’t line up with something later. Maybe my MC won’t realize it at first, and lets the comment slide. Then it can come back to her, and she can begin to realize that there’s something not quite right…