Bridge to Story

Lying, Stealing and Cheating


Lawrence Block, the wonderful mystery writer, author of over  60 books, 4 of them about how to write fiction, has one book for writers titled Telling Lies for Fun & Profit  it was first published in 1981, and now aside from still being sold in book form is also being offered as a unabridged audio book. That’s some staying power. His title says it all when you think about it. The goal in fiction is telling lies.

Telling lies that sound like truths. Making up a story that the reader will believe. Think about how wonderful it would be if you were asked, again and again,   “So, you must have some really bad issues with your dad, huh?” When in reality you had grown up without a dad. How good a liar you would be if believable dads where drawn so lifelike in many of your pieces, that fans asked about him all the time, even if he was never in your own life.

So Lie. Lie on the page in every way you can. Broaden and expand, take that step from the truths in your life. Take sense memories and reality and glance at them once, then turn to the page and lie about things.


Let’s say you like a famous writer. You wish you could write the way they do. The way they get things down on the page, the way their lines are put together. It just moves you.

Let’s say you’ve stolen this writer’s journal and gotten a peek at five opening passages, how she intends to begin her next novel. Good thief that you are, you’ve gotten away clean with five passages that moved you so much.  She never knew you were there.

What you love is her syntax. Syntax is the structure of a sentence. It’s the type of grammar a writer chooses to employ; the way language is used. It’s how the words are arranged.

You love the choices this writer makes. The rhythm and images they use. The way they build a line that seems alive.  Go to the Exercise page for ways of stealing syntax.


Let’s say you’re no longer having problems finding lies to make up, and syntax to steal from, but you’re still facing a blank page.  It’s time to start cheating. A way to do that is on the Example page.

Example Toggle


CHEAT using a Lorem Ipsum Geneartor

Lorem Ipsum is mock text (Latin) that web designers use to fill in the space where real text will be once a website has content. Until they get to loading all that in they use dummy text as a place holder. This stuff is sometimes called mock-content, Greek-ed text, filler, and content text.

If you Google “Lorem Ipsum Generator” you’ll come up with a few sites that will spit out any number of words, sentences or paragraphs of this Latin placeholder text that you can copy onto a blank page in your word processing program.

When you’ve promised yourself that you’ll write a certain number of words at any given sit down (800, I promise. I'll get 800 words written this week), but you find that you’re tongue tied, can’t think of a thing to put down, try this writing cheat;

Go to the generator site and key in the number of words or pages you promised to write.

  1. Cut and paste that Lorem Ipsum text into your writing program.
    1. Use Ctrl + A keys to “Select All” or grab all the text.
  2. On your page, change the font for the place holder text to RED.
  3. Set your INS key (insert) to Overwrite. (press the Insert key once)
  4. Place your cursor at the first red word
  5. Set the Font color back to Black (for all your new words you’re going to write).
  6. Pause a second to see the scene in your head: your characters, waiting to begin moving, talking, doing things. The doing is a big part of this.
  7. See them and begin writing. The overwrite feature will write your black text right over the red text of the place holder stuff.
  8. Cover that red text with new black words from your brain, don't worry about knowing when to stop - once the red is done, your task is also.

You’ve just cheated your way to a set goal of writing for the day.

You are only responsible for covering this many words or pages at this time. You have an out. But best of all, you have a goal to reach for that is of your own making and only of the size you can handle.

Lesson Exercise 1 Toggle

Lesson Exercise 1:

Now, let’s peek into that writer’s personal journal and try a bit of stealing— er— imitation.

Syntax and how to steal it

    Here is an opening she considered for her newest novel:

The Mexican immigrant Sofia Montez Arreaga, baker of our daily bread, scolder of roughnecks, and a most gentle ally in matters of daydreams, has fled the sufferings of old age with an acrobatic fall off a high kitchen stool.

Syntax stealing requires deconstruction of what you like in the writing. What does this opening do syntax-wise? How is it built? List what you see in each of the lines sections.

    Note that this is a complex sentence, bits of it are separated by commas so the description can continue to the end of the line:

  • The Mexican immigrant Sofia Montez Arreaga,...
  • ...baker of our daily bread, scolder of roughnecks, and a most gentle ally in matters of daydreams…
  • ...has fled the sufferings of old age with an acrobatic fall off a high kitchen stool

Here we find out things about a character’s background: nationality, history, full name. That is followed with a description that uses verbs, but not a physical one about what the character looks like, rather, it is about what she does, what’s she’s known for: She bakes. She disciplines the unruly children. We’re told she fosters daydreaming in her grandchildren’s lives.

And lastly we find out this character was old, had died, and how it happened.

The writer didn’t write elderly and died– she used syntax (a way of saying something) and wrote ‘fled the sufferings of old age’. The writer didn’t tell us, ‘This is how it happened...’ – she wrote it with syntax saying, ‘with an acrobatic fall off a high kitchen stool’

Look at your own opening for your novel or short story – then, find a passage you love from your favorite writer – break down what they did, take notes and imitate it.

Not their own words, that’s plagiarism. What you want to copy is how they wrote what they wrote.

Using the line above, you’d end up using these syntax-ish things:

  • Three things about a character’s background to introduce us to them.
  • Three other things about your character, a description that uses verbs, but not a physical one about what the character looks like.
  • Your character age, current state, and how that state came to be.

Using the syntax of passages that move you (their rhythms and sentence structures) circle the bits you want to ‘follow’. Perhaps you want to use words like Once, or use a string of three words with commas after each.

When you have circled some of this syntax, take a character you are working on and write your own passages. There are two ways to do this exercise.

  1. Begin new work from scratch and use found passages as writing prompts.

Take your own work and revise your current writing so that it uses your thoughts (character, place and information) but the writing follows the syntax in found passages—using the imitation of the syntax you like.



The goal is two fold. To see that there is a way to vary how you usually write. And to lean on other writers for learning new ways of putting things down on paper.