Monday, April 4, 2011

"I'm Not Lying"

This week’s post comes from an observation during the day job where I work as a collector for past due accounts.  I hear all the excuses, and could probably compile a book, if not a complete library, of weird things I’ve heard.  Here’s one:  my house caught fire, and I can’t get to the bank to get some checks issued from them.  Meanwhile, the guy’s not upset in the least.  It made me want to drive by just to confirm the story.  And the common one, of course, the check is in the mail.  It’s easy to see that some things we’re told are outright lies, but sometimes, it’s harder to distinguish truth from fiction.

For example, more recently a customer told me about the financial problems they’re having.  Note, they broke several promises before – saying they’d pay up the account by a certain time, that date comes and passes – no money.  But this person gets on the phone, and talks nice to me, tries to make me sympathize with her, and keeps saying throughout the conversation, “I just don’t want you to think I’m lying, because I’m not.”

Wait a minute here! 

First of all, why would I assume they were lying?  Of course, the relationship has been stressed by broken promises, but sometimes things arise that make keeping them impossible.  As an honest person, I’ve never said that statement in my life, “I’m not lying.”  I mean, seriously, what is the point when I know I’m not?  It’s not something I need to point it out to my listener.

The scenario has led me to do some brainstorming.  How often do we say what we mean?  How often do our words reveal our true motives, and agendas?

I guess this is why they say dialogue is an important aspect of character development.  What our characters say, tells our reader a lot about them.  Using the above example as a springboard for analysis, maybe the character we’re discussing has been pulled in for interrogation by police.  When asked certain questions, they may shy away, act strange, distracted, defensive – but what if you harassed the power of dialogue here?  Have them say something off-cuff, possibly similar to above, “I’m not lying”.  Do you think your detective would pick up on something like this?  They should.

Or what if you’re a romance novelist, and your two main characters can’t allow themselves to drop their pride long enough to reveal their true feelings?   Between the way they act, and the words they say, this will sharpen the contrast that is human nature.

This line of thought could be expanded to encompass action as well.  How often do emotions, or agenda, guide us to act differently than what we say?  For example, a person can preach about moderation when it comes to alcohol, and be a closet drinker.  A person can boast about righteous standards, yet abuse his mate.

I know there are a lot of other ways this observation of human nature can be applied.  What are your thoughts?