The Language of Deceit

“…a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma…”

~ WINSTON CHURCHILL

Ever notice something funny?  How many people have you ever asked a question, only to have them ask another question in response?  Usually, they repeat yours back at you.

“Where were you at ten o’ clock last night?”
“Where was I at ten o’ clock?”

“What are you doing in here?”
“What am I doing in here?”

Welcome to a more detailed look at using deceptive dialogue to give clues about a character.  I find it hard to believe that anyone who isn’t in managed care can hear a question like this and not understand what it means.  That leaves us to draw the conclusion that they have no good answer, and are stalling for time until they think of one.

I suspect that most writers wouldn’t write a piece of dialogue like the examples above, because they think that readers will see it as laziness in the author.  Certainly, they can if you overdo it, but all things in moderation, as I’ve read somewhere.

Consider the examples above:  The first is being asked by a detective of the character who he thinks might be the criminal.  The criminal doesn’t want to say, “I was murdering John Smith.”  Maybe he didn’t, but he also doesn’t want to say, “I was holding up the corner liquor store.”  Or maybe he was in bed with his partner’s wife.  He won’t want to say that, either, so he’s going to play for time while his mind frantically races to cook up a story that he can support later.

And who are the players in the second example?  Has a brother invaded his sister’s bedroom, perhaps looking for her diary?  Is he older and used to bullying her?  Maybe he’s younger, and she dominates him pretty badly.  Are they middle school-age?  High school?  College?  Maybe they’re adults, and live in separate houses, and she finds him in her personal space.  Why is he there?

Or maybe they’re both someplace they aren’t supposed to be, perhaps their parents’ bedroom.  Or maybe a detective has caught a uniformed officer poking around in the evidence room.  It could be a military situation, or two crooks before or after a job.  Where is this conversation going?  The possibilities are endless.

The point is that answering a question with a question is far from bad writing if you use it correctly and sparingly.  You can readily see how, using the above examples in a wide range of situations, you can speak volumes about a character just by having him repeat a question that he’s been asked.  The reader will immediately flag that character as someone suspicious, and watch him like a hawk from that point on.  You can lead said reader wherever you want from there, and he will eagerly follow, looking for the next breadcrumb.  That, my friends, is immersion at its finest, and you all know that immersion on the part of your reader is the holy grail of writing.

This will be a short post this week, and not because I can’t think of anything else to say.  There are some chestnuts that I want to drop clean for you to pick up and examine without a lot of background noise and clutter, and this is one of them.  Take this concept, think about it, modify it for your own use, and look for places to slip one in.  The effect on your readers will show up in your comments and reviews, and I’m pretty sure you’ll be amazed at the results.

View from the Blimp

Since we last met, I have become a freelance cartographer of sorts.  I shared the new map for the Port Reprieve anthology last week, and I am now working on a polished map of Railroad City for William Jackson’s series of the same name.  The map will be as detailed as a map can be for a Kindle display, and it is both time-consuming and pain-inducing, bringing on muscle fatigue and occasional cramps from fingertips to elbows.  In addition, time I spend on this map is time I would be spending on The Darklighters, although  I am plotting, planning, and making the occasional note as I work.  William is a very good friend, and I never want to say no to friends, but I’m going to have to limit this to one or two a year if these last two are any indication.

Speaking of The Darklighters, I still have slots for beta-readers.  I’m going to try to create something if not unique, at least unusual in the world of steampunk.  Read the completed story above, and if it holds your interest, join the team.  Free books and shout-outs are on the table.

In Other News…

If you happen to be in the New Orleans area this Friday, May 25th, you might want to include a visit to Boutique du Vampyre at 709 1/2 St. Ann Street to meet multi-faceted author David Lee Summers, and pick up your signed copy of one of his four vampire, New Orleans, or just generally creepy books, “creepy” referring specifically to The Astronomer’s Crypt, which I reviewed here.  Make it a visit to remember!

*          *          *

Readers of recent posts will know that good friend and talented author Karen Carlisle has a book release party coming up next week.  I’ll be covering that in detail on Saturday’s blog, but while you’re waiting, catch her interview by Amanda Howard, true crime and crime fiction author.

And that’s 30 for this issue.  I’ll be back Saturday with another edition of Blimprider Times; who’ll be in the spotlight this week?  Until we meet again, sing your song so the back row can hear you!

6 thoughts on “The Language of Deceit

  1. Great tip. A lot of writing rules are more like guidelines. Proceed with caution. This is one of those. Used well, it tells you something about the character saying it. Used too much and it would annoy most readers.

    Thanks for the shout out, my friend!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very important to use rhetorical devices sparingly – or as an occasional marker for one character. Maybe even the detective.

    With everything – deliberate use is the important part. The writer has to do things on purpose, for effect – to get the reader engaged. There has to be a little Aha! feeling as a prize for the attentive reader. Your example, using it to make a reader suspicious, is perfect.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good morning, you two, and welcome back! As you know, the aim of a lot of my writing is to aid the beginner in finding his or her voice, and many of them might be inclined to discard this technique out of hand because you’re taught early to never repeat things. As you both know, there’s a time and a place for everything, even “It was a dark and stormy night!” I about fell off my chair when I read that in The Astronomer’s Crypt, David; well-played indeed! And you’re very welcome, by the way. Shout-outs for my friends are a staple of my existence. I may not have anything to say, but there’s always something to promote.

      All the best to both of you; read well, and write better!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. When someone repeats my question back to me, red flags usually start waving. I love the (spare) usage of it in fiction, because it immediately sets a tone of deceit, sometimes panic, sometimes just a good ol’ flustering.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. My suspicion was right, it seems; all you old pros seem to know this. I’m hoping the youngsters this is aimed at find their way here as well!

      Like

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