Lying like a Total Jerk and Getting Away With It

I worry constantly about characters in my stories. How they feel, what they’re thinking, what they want to eat for breakfast, what they want to do about lunch given that they chose Cheerios for breakfast. Did they sleep enough last night? Are they in a bad mood today or a good one? Is their mood dictated by external events or how they felt when they awoke? Did they dream of something weird, or sexual, or frightening? Constantly.

I’ve recently been focusing on one in particular that I’m nothing like, one that I would never want to be friends with in real life. Not a bad dude, just someone a bit too paranoid, a liar and a manipulator.

Convincingly writing a lie (while keeping your own head as the puppetmaster writer) is tough because I forget when and where I had my character lie: did he said no when the answer was yes? Did he pretend that he liked the food when he didn’t? Sometimes I can’t even keep straight what was and what was not truth.
I can’t possibly be alone on this.

Then, PsyBlog posted a fantastic article about how people get away with lying… one that’s even begun helping me to remember which lies my character told (as well as how and when he told them):

Twenty-four participants were asked to remember a series of simple objects. Then, the items were listed again, with some that weren’t seen before, and they were told to either lie or tell the truth about whether they’d seen it before.

Either way–truth or lie–they had to describe the object, so that sometimes this description was made up.

Two days later they tried to remember which items they’d seen, which they’d lied about and which they hadn’t lied about.

The results showed that the brief denials (i.e. they saw the object but said they hadn’t) were most difficult to remember. In comparison, people were much better at remembering their made up descriptions of the objects.

The reason for this is probably that making something up takes effort, so it’s better remembered. Denials are quick and, in comparison, more likely to be forgotten.

Given this, I’m also starting to realize that elite lying (i.e. lying done by those with strong memories) involve strategy: explicitly remembering details to get away with it. Do all of these details have to be embellishment though? Or even said aloud? For example: could I lie to someone with a simple dismissal, but make up a story in my own head to solidify that memory, or does it have to be said aloud?

I’m going to play with this a little in my little writing lab and see what explodes. If this works for you and you convincingly remember your lie to someone, let me know. Would be great to have a good real-world example.

Tangent: I appreciate that Yahoo has to have an article to help people who get caught lying. And that “DO” #3 is “Apologize.” So much for parenting.