In the previous article we looked at narrators lying directly but they can also lie by omission. This can be effective when we leave the reader speculating, or sneak the omission in so they don’t immediately notice and build towards it being important. But it also has its challengers, the primary problem is when the omission is glaringly obvious, often at an important moment.

Lying by omission might be the narrator not being specific about their backstory. It’s a bit different if someone asks them a direct question and we cut to something else just to avoid answering, this can infuriate readers because it’s so obvious a writer is trying to avoid something, especially if it’s important information or something the story built to answering and then used cutting as a delaying tactic.

Instead of cutting we can avoid directly answering with humour, a question, saying something that turns the conversation around from the subject they’re trying to avoid, or keeping details vague. It’s important to remember that simply because a question is asked in dialogue doesn’t mean it has to be directly answered. If we show the answer being avoided we can also show something about the character, perhaps they’re the type of person to deflect personal questions with humour, perhaps they’re good at spinning a yarn so people don’t realise they’re being directed, or perhaps they’re direct and tell the other person they don’t want to answer their questions. We could even show them being all three by turns depending on what the question is or who they’re talking to. If they have a good relationship with someone they might simply answer the question, if they have a bad/no relationship with someone they might avoid it. We can even show this by having two characters ask the same question and get two different reactions/replies.

This applies to narration too but in a slightly different way. If the character is the narrator then they control what readers see, hear, and know (as presented facts rather than speculation). Therefore the character/narrator has more control of how they’re perceived. While their narrative can’t control the way readers interpret what they reveal they can control what they reveal about themselves and the story. For instance, they don’t need to have long paragraphs about their past, as long as the story is moving forward it’s often less obvious that the past is rarely referenced. They can scatter hints, offhanded comments, a small mention here and there, a joke that possibly has a double meaning. By doing this they’re not technically lying but they’re not telling the whole truth.

It’s important to remember that just because a character is telling a story it doesn’t mean they have to tell every part of that story, even if they know it.


Article Archive 1

Published by Jesse

I'm a writer and academic specialising in fantasy fiction and creative writing theory. I'm allergic to pretentiously talking about fiction and aim to be unashamedly ‘commercial’. Surely all fiction is commercial anyway, or what’s the point in publishing it?

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