Imagine a story in which everyone lies left and right, to each other and themselves.
Sounds good, right? So full of conflict and hidden suggestions, misdirections and bad decisions.
But how exciting is it if you’re told that they are unreliable lying liars?
This is why I’m going through my first draft* with my head in my hands.
Saga (a wonderful space opera comic series I highly recommend) has Lying Cat announce every falsehood. She’s perfect for Saga’s comedy/drama/surrealism but I can’t get away with something so obvious. I’m not that clever and clever isn’t my book’s “tone” anyway.
Hence my need to master subtext.
How can I show Edward con everyone without pointing out every time he invents a story? How do I show Jane play the gracious housewife while struggling not to slap everyone in sight? How do I show Dee’s nervousness even as he follows every insane angelic order?
I’m barely 2 chapters in and I’ve already found multiple spelled-out instances (“My name is Talbot,” Edward lied; Jane hid her anger behind a smile). I don’t want to hit readers over the head like that. At the same time I don’t want to hint so feebly that readers wonder what the hell just happened.
The Emotion Thesaurus has proved invaluable in my efforts to say the unsaid. It’s organized by emotion and includes not only definition and physical, mental, and internal indications but examples of efforts to suppress that emotion. Rage expresses through violent acting out, clouded vision, and a need to take control, but suppressed rage plays out through gritted teeth and tense silence. I don’t read body language well so having it laid out in a tidy list is helpful for me beyond the page.
So I’m going through looking for opportunities for my characters to show their inner conflicts. This will take a lot of work.
*I think I’ve finished my first draft (!) It lacks a few scenes from my outline, but on second look they seem like filler. The first draft may be a major achievement, but it doesn’t feel like one. I now have a ton of sand, but it’s still not a castle.