Truth and Deception in Fiction

My blogs this year focus on appositional aspects of personality. I am studying how well-known writers make use of these traits in their own texts. It is my hope that my examination will help me write characters that ring true. This month I discuss how the concepts of truthfulness and deception can be used to craft opposing characters.

What Is Truth in Fiction?

As I read different novels, it appears that the ways authors handle truth fall into three categories: truth as verifiable facts, truth as genuineness in a character’s personality, and truth as accuracy in how a character sees others and surrounding events.  

If the author is focusing on verifiable facts, the characters may be portrayed as being certain of what they say. They know that if they are questioned, they can attest to the veracity of their claim. If the character’s point of view is portrayed, the reader can believe what the character says.

The second quality of truth, genuineness, tends to describe a range of human behaviors and interactions. Truthful characters may be depicted with different shades of meaning. One character might be described as candid and straightforward. Other characters and the reader may align with this character. Another might be outspoken or too direct causing the other characters and the reader to back off or feel reserved in return.

The third quality of truth may be shown as exactness in one’s assessments of people or interactions. This layering of meanings allows the author to create different types of characters with subtle differences that the reader must decipher. If a character is good at assessing the truthfulness of other characters he may serve as a good witness to an event.

Each of these qualities of truthfulness call for an opposition in at least one other character. One opposite of truth is deception.

How Is Deception Portrayed in Fiction?

I found a similar triple layering in how deception is used in fiction. One category of deception might include deliberate tricks or ruses. Such a character could be depicted as a clever trickster whose ruses can fool the gullible or as one who deliberately projects a false impression.

A second type of deception could refer to duplicity or deceit. Such a character could be cunning or crafty. A character whose major quality is duplicity could be the engine of a story in which even the other characters are confused as to what is happening.

A third type of deceptive character, a con artist, could cheat others or commit fraud. The con artist engages in deliberate treachery. Such a cheat or fraudster could definitely play the role of the bad guy in the story.

How do Contemporary Writers View Truth and Deception?

In Lost and Wanted by Nell Freudenberger, truth and deception occur as part of the plot and create a major question of the novel: is there life after death? In this novel, an honest, innocent character appears to be using a ruse.

In Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu, truth and deception are screens through which the main character describes what he sees and thinks as the scenes of his life play out. Sadly, it is society at large that frames and sets the stage for the enduring duplicity that occurs. Continued deception forces all of the characters to play roles in a reality that is never authentic but always staged with winners and losers.

In The Lying Life of Adults by Elena Ferrante truth and deception are at play on practically every page of the novel. It is a novel about a teenage girl coming to grips with the reality of adolescence and adult life. What she has believed to be the truth of her existence gets turned on its head repetitively. Her reactions to her new reality reveal her own shifting relationship to truth and deception. She becomes a smooth con artist who manages to fool the adults around her.

Colum McCann, whose novel Apeirogon deals with a factual story, said in a Zoom interview with the Poetry and Prose Bookstore that he had to balance factual truth with what he called “illustrative truth.” He places a meeting scene in a monastery, for example, “to get to the true heart of the actually true” because the monastery was symbolic. He also mentioned that both fiction and nonfiction can be true. One of the striking aspects of this novel is how he positions natural reality and beauty against the deception and ugliness of human limitations.

Truth and Deceitfulness in My Fiction

In my first novel, I am dealing with factual truths and spiritual truths. My second novel addresses truth coming up against the deceitfulness of a corporation. My third, treats the topics of truthfulness and deception in personal relationships.

My Writing Goals for 2021

Revise and complete a final edit of my first novel, sending it out for review by December 7, 2021:

During the month of March, I had to do more research on this topic which was a calming activity in face of the violence that occurred in our city.

Complete a revised draft of my second novel by December 7, 2021:

This past month, I worked on more research for this novel. I learned about issues in Colorado about which I knew little that add interest to my story.

Add to the draft of my third novel by participating in the RMFW NovelRama in the spring, summer, and fall:

Unfortunately, there will be no NovelRama this spring so this goal is moot. I will delete it next month.

Send Moon Chimes: Poems to a poetry contest and publish the Moon Chimes Workbook: Arts & Sciences:

A notice was sent that my book had been received for the contest. I am pleased that Moon Chimes is receiving good reviews on Amazon.

I have not worked on the workbook.

Continue to develop a network of kindred spirits in the world of writing and publishing:

Boulder Writers Alliance: I attended a workshop called “Why Creating an Ideal Client or Reader Profile Is Essential for Success” presented by Vala Vincent, a social media marketing business coach.

Boulder Writers Alliance, Writers Who Read: In Gary Alan McBride’s group, we analyzed Apeirogon by Colum McCann which was longlisted for the 2020 Booker Prize. McCann won the 2009 National Book Award for his novel Let the Great World Spin. Apeirogon is a beautiful, if excruciatingly painful, read.

Denver Women’s Press Club: I worked with the Membership Committee this month.

Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers: This month we voted for the Writer of the Year and Independent Writer of the Year awards.

Document my writing progress through my blog to be posted on the seventh day of each month, writing 12 blogs in 2021:

Today is April 7, 2021, I am posting my fourth blog of 2021. March was a difficult month in Colorado because my city suffered its first mass killing. Everyone I know has been in mourning. I am personally grateful for the support of friends and the broader community. May the victims’ memories be a blessing. May the survivors find peace and healing.

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