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This is a discussion I had with another writer.

In a screenplay, a young man who is being led astray by a charismatic character lies to that person's wife to avoid exposing the other character's infidelity. The lie works and the situation is saved. He has ensuing qualms about the cover-up and says:

"I hate telling lies."

Whereupon the man he was covering for replies:

"That wasn't a lie. You were telling her what she needed to hear."

When I read this exchange, I criticized the "That wasn't a lie" part of the dialogue as wrong, and suggested omitting it completely or replacing it by "I wouldn't call it a lie.", to avoid this character who is supposed to be duplicitous but also smart and charismatic to seem like a fool. However, the other writer disagreed, stating that the line was strong as it stands.

How do you feel about this?

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Maybe the "That wasn't a lie" part is not wrong. Maybe he was telling him what he needed to hear. – Marc Wolvesheir Feb 23 '14 at 18:45
up vote 3 down vote accepted

While I agree with your specific objection, and would never myself call an intentionally untrue statement intended to conceal some fact anything but a lie, I am not a character in a fictional work and the character in question is certainly not me.

The line "That isn't a lie" is fine as-is, and it also serves the useful secondary purpose of expressing the viewpoint of the character who speaks it. Specifically, it says that they are a character comfortable with white lies who sees nothing amoral with enabling someone else's self-deception.

(And it'd be fair to call our remorseful liar wise despite their falsehood, fwiw.)

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