Why Lies Create Interesting Characters


Should the characters in your screenplay lie? Does lying make you a bad screenwriter?

What is a lie? Quite simply it’s statement that isn’t entirely true. This can be deliberate or unintended. Malicious or frivolous.

Psychologists argue that people consciously tell lie to protect themselves. It’s a social and physical defence mechanism. It may mean that they aren’t ready to face a trauma or the pain of a lie is better than the truth.

Telling something that is untrue may also be a function of ignorance (wilful or not), having insufficient facts, or simply interpreting the available information in a biased or incorrect way. This is often used as a comedic premise in film and TV; the buffoon who is blissfully unaware of the facts, says things which trigger misunderstandings to comedic effect, or simply lives by the ignorance is bliss mantra.

Then there are deliberate white lies which often explode in the characters’ faces once they are revealed. These are omissions, exaggerations, understatements designed to not hurt another character’s feelings, to prevent one character getting into trouble, or to keep the peace.

The more sinister lies are specifically designed to influence an outcome. No, I wasn’t at the murder scene that night or sure I’ve flown a plane before. What could possibly go wrong?

This deliberate act of manipulating the truth is a great source of entertaining movies and strong character growth. Propagating lies is a coping mechanism to deal with with poor self esteem or some self-perceived character deficiency. Such lies help create empathy in characters. They include lying about income, where they live and how much their car costs.

In thrillers and dramas, lies are usually told for self-preservation and may not always lead to character growth. Criminals will lie as much as they need to stay our of prison. They may learn the errors of their ways or not. The lying is actually a plot device to engage the audience by creating tension and intrigue. Consider mysteries where the audience must figure out whodunnit.

More extreme lies can enter the realm of character delusion which is largely considered a mental illness, since delusional statements are quite clearly incorrect. Consider Lars in “Lars and The Real Girl” where he truly believed his blow up doll was a living woman.

Lies must always be revealed by the end of the story; to the audience at the very least. The characters usually discover lies, but not always. Some truths are best left unsaid.

Then there are monkey characters, whose sole purpose is to create chaos through lies. It is a strong story device to create plot twists and turns. Such characters are often the subject of teen/ coming of age stories when they are still immature, naive and don’t appreciate the consequences of their actions.

The most extreme form of lying is found in psychopaths and sociopaths. Both share many characteristics, but psychopathy is more extreme in that its sufferers cannot form any emotional attachments. Sociopaths are less emotionally damaged and more aware of their behaviours. Psychopathic lying is often found in super villains intent on causing mass destruction for the sheer pleasure of it. They always have a hidden agenda which is revealed during the story to create conflict.

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3 Comments Add yours

  1. Thank you for the interesting information. I’m looking forward to developing my characters more and your articles are very useful!

  2. Shadowolfdg says:

    This provides great insight into a concept I haven’t thought of playing around with in my novels. You’ve given some great ideas. Thanks for this

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