Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Lying in Fiction

Brandilyn Collins recently wrote about lying to the reader and put her finger on what I don’t like about close third person or deep third person, as she calls it. If you look at the article, you will see that she makes a distinction between the author’s narrative and the narrative of close third, but the example paragraph is exactly the same. As writers, we may say that it is okay to lie to the read in one while it isn’t in the other because in one the reader is listening to the voice of a flawed character and in the other he is listening to the voice of the author, who has had the benefit of having read the book several times and knows that fifty pages away the character is going to prove the character’s assumption wrong. But how is the reader supposed to know that?

If there is no difference between what the author says in his authority to what the character says in his flaws, the reader has no way of knowing whether the passage is written by the author or by the character. In first person, we don’t have that problem because it is so obvious that the narrator is a character within the story. In third person, the narrator may be an outside observer or it may be the author. I know this isn’t popular, but if readers don’t like us lying to them, maybe we should avoid writing in deep third person. Either it is okay to lie to the reader or it is not. If it is not, we can’t get around the issue by splitting hairs and saying it is okay because we are writing in deep third person.

Question: To what degree should lying in fiction be allowed? Does it really matter at all?

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