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Understanding the art of lying to create believable characters

Recently, I was writing a scene where my protagonist is trying to decide if the man she is talking to is lying to her or not. This made we wonder: can you tell when someone is lying to you? And how? Is it a telling gesture or look that gives them away? Or, is your character more complicated than that? And do you know them enough to even know if they are lying?

Lee Lofland is a veteran police investigator with years of experience who has sat across from some of the best liars in the world. Lofland has been a sheriff’s deputy, patrol officer,  and detective and has worked in prisons, as an undercover officer and in narcotics, among other areas of law enforcement.

He has also written a book for writers, “Police Procedure and Investigation: A Guide for Writers (Howdunit),” that is a treasure trove of information on how the police work. Authors from Jeffery Deaver to J.A. Jance to Hallie Ephron give Lofland’s guide a thumbs up.

In his blog post, “I Know You’re Lying: Your Pants Are On Fire and Other Tell-Tale Signs,” Lofland outlines five things detectives look for to determine if a suspect is lying to them.

One thing they watch for are hand gestures. If the person they are interviewing twirls their hair, touches their lips, or scratches their ears, they may be lying. Inward hand gestures indicate lies while outward hand gestures can mean a person is telling the truth (waving, pointing, etc).

So, in my scene, maybe my protagonist will notice the man she is speaking to suddenly begins playing with his goatee or mustache. A hand gesture combined with another of Lofland’s “tells” might be just what my scene needs to add a little spice and give my readers a clue to my character’s personality or motives.

For more on the art of lying, please read Lofland’s post and follow-up post (follow the link at the bottom of his article).


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