Storytelling Technique – Disguise and Deception
Many writers may not have heard about disguise and deception, but some genres rely on it and in particular, thriller, crime and mystery writers use this concept to build their stories. They use disguise and deception to trick the reader into believing something true within the story but is, in fact, a lie.
It all boils down to manipulation. The writer has a number of ways to manipulate the reader. The truth is never always what it seems. Deception in the fictional world is all about good old-fashioned pretence. For example, a story might have the antagonist kill someone and then he lies to cover up the crime, but then he must conjure more lies and cover ever more deepening deceptions – he has to work hard to keep the deception going, thus creating tension and conflict. Or perhaps the protagonist must lie about who he really is – or disguise himself – because the truth could lead to all sorts of danger, until, of course, the deception is finally uncovered. These kinds of scenarios create tension, drama and atmosphere.
We tend to think of the antagonist where deception is concerned, since by their very nature they are manipulative, deceptive and generally bad, but heroes can deceive, too. In fact, every character is capable of deception – but there must always be logical reasoning behind it. There is a reason why we do what we do, and disguise and deception is no different.
Characters often try to avoid the truth, even if, as we all know, honesty is the best policy. What could be the things that drive characters to hide the truth and deceive those around them? Why are they lying? Is something at stake? What are they trying to hide? Or maybe it’s self-preservation – they must do it to protect someone or something. Perhaps it’s because the character is just a bad person that thrives on lies and deceit – they’re completely dishonest anyway. Or it could be they’re harbouring a secret. It’s these kinds of characters that make stories so interesting.
Disguise isn’t necessarily about a character masquerading as someone else, but in some novels, it often means a character must disguise what he or she has done; it’s a critical path towards deception. It works on the principle that the more the character is has to disguise something, the higher the deception and conflict value, especially when the truth unravels. Characters can disguise their actions, themselves and their emotions, and this is probably not exploited enough by writers.
How is disguise and deception achieved?
The whole point is for the writer to lie to and trick the reader. Subtle clues about certain things or how characters behave can be very telling to the reader. Just imagine people in real life when they’re not being completely honest. How they act and react can say a lot, which is why characteristics are a great way to show the reader that a character might be deceptive – things like suspicions behaviour, not wishing to engage with other characters, being indecisive or maybe or maybe they show strange body language. Their emotions don’t have to be truthful, either.
Dialogue is another way for writers to manipulate the reader. What characters say – and what they don’t say – can show a character being deceptive. Tone of voice can disguise the truth, as can ambiguity in what they say.
Writers can also drop hints and clues throughout the narrative that things may not be what they seem about events or characters by creating falsehoods and red herrings – that’s why writers are master manipulators. We don’t want the reader to get too comfortable, after all.
The point of these concepts is to create drama, tension and extra conflict. Everybody has something to hide. We all have secrets. We have all hidden from the truth at one point or another. We have all deceived.
Your characters are no different.