Can a writer lie to the reader? This was a question rattling round in my brain the last few days. Not sure why it crossed my mind but it intrigued me anyway. Clearly most stories attempt to deceive the reader into believing one thing then springing a surprise on them. But most of the time, at least that I can remember, this is only a sleight of hand. The reader is left with the feeling that they should have known this all along, if they had read the clues correctly. Indeed a writer has to leave clues both to deceive and hint that something is not right and the readers challenge is to guess which one is right or wrong.
A writer clearly can lie to his characters in the story but the reader often is complicit in this lie. This is because they know the characters reason for the lie and accept that as part of the story. It is also true that the reader isn’t necessarily aware of the character’s lie until the end of the story but again that is accepted by the reader, as they know some characters by their nature will be lying in the story.
No my question is not about lying to other characters but lying to the reader directly. This might be a rubbish example but it’s one that comes to mind. The writer tells you the reader that the year is 1968 and the day is Tuesday. Or perhaps they are 70 years old but tell you that they are only 50. Through the course of the story the truth may be revealed for whatever reason either through a direct revelation or just in the space of time. I wonder whether this would annoy me. Going back to the first point, a writer would often build a view of a character or place that may mislead you but would never actually state an incorrect lie. Another example maybe a murderer who the author writes in the first person clearly states didn’t commit the crime, but is later revealed to be a murderer. That of course maybe a clumsy mistake but if the writer deliberately did it, he would have to be very clever about justifying it. Claiming the character believed it of himself might get you so far but as a reader you may not forgive it. The famous Dallas lie of Bobby Ewing appearing from the shower after being dead for a series was roundly trounced by the audience even though everyone mourned his original omission.
Throughout this debate I am trying to think of an example where the writer could or has got away with it. Remember misconception is one thing, but an outright lie is another. Anyone know a story where a writer successfully carried this off?