Deception – a risk/reward strategy

Spider well-camouflaged on tree trunk in the Amazon jungle – by E. Jurus

Should I tell you that I had some amazing reason for not posting yesterday as usual? I could try, but it’s not in my nature to dissemble. The truth is that my body is still fighting off this prolonged summer cold and I forgot. (Adding reminders in my phone calendar as we speak.)

Lots of people lie; I try not to hang around them. Starting a relationship with someone implies an inherent trust that neither of you will jerk each other around, and if one of you does, the feeling of betrayal is profound.

So why do people do it? That question has always mystified me. If the perpetrator gets some temporary jollies out of it, will they then, at the end of their life, have only this to reflect: “I spent my life behaving like an asshole and I’m so proud of it”? Perhaps they lie to themselves about their own motives, because I don’t see how anyone can feel good about damaging someone else.

Of course, these types of people are the scoundrels that populate all the great mystery novels and thrillers. After all, if no one ever did anything bad, what would we write about?

As a writer, we have to try and understand the motivations of the scoundrels so we can write them believably. Why do they do what they do? None of us are born as despicable people, so what happened in a scoundrel’s life to set them on their path of destruction?

If you happen to know a person like that well enough to track their journey, you’ve got a head start. But there’s lots of published material out there as well. The article I’m highlighting this week takes a look at famous imposters in history — the ultimate con, to convince quite a few people that you’re someone or something other than what you seem.

The impostor must always believe in their mind that there’s some great benefit to trying to pull off such a swindle. It happens all the time in the natural world; prey species often camouflage themselves to either hide from predators or look like something much more threatening than they really are. Predators camouflage themselves to look harmless — like the spider on the tree above, in the Amazon jungle. It blended so well into the bark of the tree that if I hadn’t been looking straight at it I’d never have noticed its presence. I can only imagine how many insects wandered unwittingly past, only to be snatched up for dinner.

For this week’s reading, I suggest you check out Body Double, in the JSTOR Daily newsletter. It’s a fascinating overview of several famous swindles over the centuries. They’ve inspired many well-known authors, and maybe they’ll give you some great ideas to use in your own novel.

And for all those lying, cheating scoundrels out there, remember: karma’s a bitch!

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