How to Trick the Reader

What are you?

You are an architect. You are the master of constructs. Raw materials bend the earth to your will as you theorize, plan, and build the world to your liking. The great machines and the little tools are your playthings, and you command vast legions of minions to carry out your plans.

What are you?

You are an actor. The stage is your home. You leave the audience in tears after every performance, delivering a heart-pounding experience they’ll never forget. You’re well skilled in the arts of stage and screen, and you can perfectly emulate the role the director’s written you to. You’re good-looking and popular, renowned the world throughout for your acting abilities.

What are you?

You are a rogue. Trickery is your middle name. Through careful plotting and planning, you gain wealth and power over others. Your victims see only one hand though both are in plain sight. You’re a master of misdirection, and you’ve fooled the highest rulers in the lands. You retire comfortably on a pile of gold far underground–confident that no one knows what you’ve done.

Now, are you done with class selection yet?

Writers are, first and foremost, tricksters. All artists are, in a way: all art is based off the suspension of disbelief. The greater you can get the reader to partake in the disbelief, the more you can tell them without them calling you a liar. And if what you’re telling them is fantastical enough, they’ll stay to hear more–but you gotta nail that first lie in the beginning.

Now, it’s not really a “lie”, I’m just saying that for dramatic effect. But generally speaking, the fictional world is an untruth, but holds truth within it. Is Dalinar Kholin the king of Alethkar? Well, technically a person called “Dalinar Kholin” never existed, but if we accept that little untruth, everything about The Stormlight Archive becomes believable–at least, for as long as you’re reading the book.

To be a writer, you must then be a master of trickery. You have to live in it, thrive in it, deal in it. At all times, your job is to keep up the illusion of a fake world, making the reader believe it’s real and alive. One little lie with spark a world of truths…and, therefore, the most important part is to get the reader to believe the one lie.

But what exposes a lie? Well, the truth, of course. And the truth is that this book was written by an overweight, pimply-faced, monster energy drink-addicted man in his late 40s in the darkness of his room over the course of continued edits spanning three years. It’s not a story about slaying dragons and rescuing princesses. It’s a lie.

“A good book tells the truth about its characters. A bad book tells the truth about its author.”

– G.K. Chesterton

In reality, you might not be that antisocial writing-obsessed nerd I just described. But you’re not Dalinar Kholin, Aerith, Kaladin Stormblessed, Black Widow, Aragorn Elessar, Jack Reacher, Hermione Granger or James Bond. Those characters are far more attractive, far more skilled, far more exemplary, far more awesome. They’re literally too good to be true, and they’re not.

It’s a bit like watching a good movie, but then you see the proverbial zipper on the back of the monster suit. At that moment, it’s not Thanos giving Iron Man a beat-down; it’s a computer generated segment that seems to have an actor’s arm phasing through his head with occasional pre-recorded voice lines from Josh Brolin and Robert Downey Jr. It ceased to become a story.

So you want to obscure the truth: anything that reminds the reader of their world will immediately take them back to it, whisk them out of the lie you’ve created for them to enjoy: in more common parlance, shattering one’s immersion. You want to get rid of anything that reminds readers of a certain time and place: it will stand out and appear out of place in a story, reminding your reader of the outside world.

This is why randomly gender/sexuality/race-swapped characters are so jarring–and hated. Whatever your views on the liberal ideology, a randomly inserted transgender or gay individual does nothing but remind us that a video game, a book, or a movie is just lines of code, an imaginary world we’ll never visit, or a bunch of actors hanging out and playing pretend.

Don’t believe me? Then can I point out that it’s a logical impossibility for there to be a publicly accepted trans person in the 1800s? (Hogwarts Legacy) What makes you think hyper-advanced, nanotech-infused super soldiers from the future care about pronouns? (Destiny 2 Lightfall) They remind us of things in real life, but at this point the realities in your story and realities of the world we live in don’t mix. It’s immersion-shattering (not to mention it’s a great way to piss off your fanbase).

The same goes with references and cheesy lines. Sometimes, the reader will come across a line, cringe, and once again be reminded that this was written by an author on a computer somewhere in the midwest US…or, possibly, someplace more seedy, like a back alley in Detroit. This is not what you want your reader thinking about.

Now, there may be nothing wrong with the guy who sits in the basement consisting on Starbucks coffee and Pringles, but there’s nothing magical about him. He’s an ordinary man, trying to make dollars from an ordinary stack of lettered paper between two covers typed on an ordinary keyboard with ordinary fingers, all the product of an ordinary mind. At least, that’s how it looks when you compare it to the swashbuckling adventures of Nathan Drake.

Which would you rather do: watch a game dev sift through lines of code and debug a game for 8 hours every day for six months, or play Elden Ring? If you’re sane, the choice is simple. Consumers prefer immersion over truth. That is why they buy your product. They want to live in a world for an hour every night, not spent it getting reminded that they have to get up in the morning and head off to work like they’ve done every day for the last fifteen years.

You’re the rogue. The silent trickster who soothes the souls of men with temporary, well-meaning lies. You see the burdens of humanity, and so your quill is a knife to cut them away from the tired man or woman who’s just come home from work. People come to you and ask you to tell them a lie, which you do–and through it, you give them truth.

What are you?

You’re an author.

Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Plus, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the Resources tab. It’s full of super helpful material and I promise it will help you out. Until then, writers!


Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

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