The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across the keyboard.

The tickle of curiosity. The gasp of discovery. Fingers running across the keyboard.

The World of Iniquus - Action Adventure Romance

Monday, June 10, 2013

How to Write a Liar Telling a Lie: Body Language 101 for Writers


English: Eye with a contact lens (myopia).
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lies Lies Lies

So your heroine has found herself confronted with a problem. Should she believe what the other character is telling her or run for the hills?

She has a feeling that this is all a big fat lie. Why?

Our brains are phenomenal machines that take in millions of pieces of information, sorts through, and then offers us a small little wedge of consciousness.

Here are the cross-cultural "lying tells" (Studies also run on blind people who have never seen a lie in action) that you might write into the plot line to tickle her brain awake.

1.)  The liars hands. Body language studies show that people tend to touch their face and scratch
       their nose when they lie.

2.) Their eyes. Liars tend to blink a lot and do not maintain eye contact. They will sometimes have a rapid
     eye-shift then look down to the left

3.) Liars will often skip contractions saying I did not instead of I didn't. "I did NOT kill that woman!"

4) Liars will often skip pronouns using their names instead of he or she. "I gave it to Betty Sue."

5) Liars smile using only their mouth - the smile doesn't reach their eyes. Since the brain uses only one
    part to recall but three parts to plot a lie, the face will often freeze into an expression. The typical
    expression is an ingenuous smile.
English: smile
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

6) Liars close their body posture. Arms and/or
    legs may cross, shoulders scoop inward, head

7) Often a liar will put an object between
     themselves and the person to whom they are
     lying - like a  folder, coffee mug, or chair.

8) Extended pauses in the conversation make
    liars feel uncomfortable. The liar will fill in the
    space with words.

9) Liars provide more information than necessary
   - overly specific and detailed. "The girls were
   wearing team t-shirts." v. "The team was wearing matching red and white baseball t-shirts."

10) A liar will use a qualifier: "I want you to understand that..." "You can trust me..."

11) Liars will perceptibly change their breathing, sweating, and swallowing (too much saliva or dry mouth)

12) Liars tend to list to the side.

Added note - Liars tend to prefer technology (phone calls etc.). Because they do not need to maintain their body and facial features, they can focus on their tone and delivery. But as writers, we can still show the lie being  told. And when a lie is being told through technology the body language would not be monitored, so it will be even more on evident display.


How to Catch a Lier (3:57)
How to Detect Lies - Steven Van Aperen (4:20)
Scam School Teaches You How to Lie. (15:51)

    See how this article influenced my plot lines in my novella MINE and my novel CHAOS IS COME AGAIN.

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      1. The tells always tell. :) This excellent, Fiona. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. Now, I need to find that other post I've saved of yours on Twitter...

      2. Love this! I was just in a scene where the interviewee is lying! Thanks so much for this!

        1. Wonderful -
          I hope you find some of my other articles helpful, as well.


      3. This is awesome! My novel is full of dishonest people and I have having trouble getting that across! Thanks! :)

        1. I'm so pleased! I hope you find some of my other articles helpful as well.


      4. Great stuff, thanks Fiona. Liars also tend to hide their hands when lying. Apparently, despite the acquisition of spoken language over millions of years of human evolution, the human brain is still hard-wired to engage the hands in accurately communicating emotions, thoughts, and sentiments - so when someone conceals their hands it's likely they're lying to you.

      5. Great info for writers. I'm sharing and tweeting.

      6. Thanks, Christine - I appreciate your support.


      7. I'm not sure about the eye direction in #2. I've heard many times that people who look to the left are remembering something, while those who look to the right are making something up.

        We know that Lady Gaga lies a lot for the controversy and is often found to be contradicting her stories. What do you think of her body language and eye movements in this image where she talks about not lying? I find it very interesting that she can not look at the interviewer when she says she's doesn't lie.

        1. Hi there,

          Typically in recall it is up left or straight up. Please notice I said "typically," surely there are people out there who do their own thing.

          Telling a lie for someone who is normally very truthful will be more evident than someone who is a practiced liar. Too, people in show biz are performers. They feel that when they are addressing an audience (media) that they are playing a role. That is an acting job and not a lie. It's a subtle difference in the case you describe. But that would change their body language - an interesting point for anyone who is writing a scene with a performer.



      8. I would like to point out that this doesn't always work. People with Asperger's Syndrome may not have any of these "tells", and that's something you can use in your books -- how someone fooled a seasoned pro who can normally sense when someone is bullpooping them.

        1. Thank you kindly for adding to this discussion.

          And not to in any way link autistic spectrum disorder with mental health - but I should also add sociopaths, psychopaths, and those suffering from delusional disorders confound normal "tells"

          So much to consider!