Why do people lie? There are many reasons, but certainly one of the most common ones is to make yourself or your life seem more interesting. I've encountered three people along the way who were really good liars.
LIAR 1: THE ELVIS FAN
The first one pretended that he was high up in a movie production company. He always had the latest inside news before anybody else--what he told me would appear in Daily Variety the next day.
He also said he'd been friends with Elvis and he showed me a bunch of memorabilia, inscribed to him by name by Elvis, to prove it.
It took me a while to catch on, but eventually I found out that actually he worked in the mail room of that production company and he got a lot of his inside information from a few other low-level studio workers around town. I suspect he bought the Elvis stuff and autographed it to himself.
Years later I heard that he was being sued by someone he'd conned into giving him money to finance a movie that he had claimed was almost fully funded and just needed that extra ten thousand dollars.
LIAR 2: IT'S GOOD TO THE KING
The second was a man who pretended to be part of the aristocracy in the UK. Of course he'd met Lady Diana. He kept catalogues from Christies scattered around the place. He loved to drink champagne and to treat others to it as well.
Eventually he was arrested for defrauding his employer, which is how he'd afforded the champagne. I also found out that many of the rich Brits he used to hang around with knew he was a fake, but didn't say anything (they were much more tuned in to the nuances of accent and deportment that give away one's origins than I, as an American, was).
LIAR 3: THIS SOUNDS FAMILIAR...
The third was someone who always had stories about his remarkable life and they were sort of plausible--until one time he told me a story about an event that had happened to him...that I had actually told him and that actually had happened to me! As far as I know, this one hasn't ever been in trouble with the law, but I hear that his life is in disarray.
All three of them at times seemed to have convinced themselves that their concocted stories were true. I guess that's the sign of a really good liar (or maybe a psychopath)--when you lie so well that you believe it yourself.
THE 4 SECRETS OF THE GOOD LIAR AND WRITER
What does this have to do with writing? Well, as someone said, fiction consists of lies you tell in order to reveal the truth. We do make things up, and we need to make them convincing. What made the liars' stories convincing? I think it was four things:
* inside information - that's something people love to get in books as well, a look into worlds not usually open to them, whether that's high finance, espionage, or the third world garbage piles that are 'mined' by children'
* details. If I say to you that yesterday it rained frogs, you probably would doubt me. If I said yesterday 16 frogs fell from the sky into my garden, hearing that specific number might give you pause.
* consistency. This usually is the liars' downfall. They trade in details, but they can't keep track of them. In the case of the Elvis fan, it was a shift in versions of the same story that first made me think he might be lying. Once I was looking and listening for this, small inconsistencies that I might not have noticed before stood out.
As writers we have to be consistent on two levels. One is about details. I make notes as I go along--if on page 23 I say that Lisa has brown-green eyes, I jot it down so that when her fiance looks into her eyes on page 156 he won't remark how wonderfully blue they are. The other is consistency of the behavior of the characters we create. In real life we are not terribly consistent, but readers expect it from our characters.
* not relying on coincidence to explain how they got out of trouble. We will happily believe it if someone tells us a series of misfortunes stemming from coincidence, but it they keep telling us that they were able to get out of trouble because each time something helpful happened by coincidence, we won't. The same goes for your plots--getting your character out of a scrape through coincidence feels lazy and like cheating.
There you have it--four tools you can use to lie well or to write well (I recommend the latter!).
(Some of the greatest liars, er, writers, reveal their secrets in my newest book, "Your Creative Writing Masterclass." It offers writing advice from Mark Twain, Anton Chekhov, Jane Austen and more than a hundred other talented and successful writers of today and yesteryear. You can get it from Amazon or your other favorite book seller.)