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Monday, November 21, 2016

Eight Lies Your Character Might Believe

By Pamela S. Meyers

One of the eye-opening things I learned after I began writing fiction was that most people—if not all—believe certain lies about themselves. If you write in Deep POV, assigning one of the lies to your POV character is a sure-fire way of taking your readers deep into the whys and wherefores of the character as the storyline develops.

I recently Googled “lies people believe about themselves” and came up with a couple lists that cite ten lies. Then, someone gave me a list of eight lies from a psychology-related university study, and that list is below. I think most of us can look at these characteristics and find themselves--perhaps not believing the lie now, but have believed it in the past. People can and do stop believing the lie as they grow and learn more about themselves and their circumstances. I'm living proof of that, but I'll spare you the details. Authors should strive for to determine their characters' lies while developing the character arc for their heroine or hero. It's so much easier to work it into the first draft rather than later when you are on the umpteenth draft. 
 Here’s the list. 

  1. I'm a disappointment.
  2. I'm not good enough (this is a very strong lie, often used for men and strong female leads)
  3. I'm not enough – or defective (similar to #1, but not exactly the same)
  4. I'm too much to handle and will get rejected. 
  5. It's all my fault. 
  6. I'm helpless – powerless to fix (this leads to a fear of being controlled).
  7. I'm unwanted
  8. I'm bad (which could possibly be used as a symptom or excuse for another lie) 

When I’m developing characters for a new story I keep this list handy and as their backstories present themselves, I search for these hidden lies.

A while back I wrote a story called Love Will Find a Way. It’s no longer available except for used copies on the Internet, but I plan to republish it under a different title after I’ve edited the story and deepened the characters.

Included in the story is a friend of April Love, the heroine. Lonnie shows up without warning on April’s doorstep. A relatively new widow, she’d recently walked out on her job as a sous chef and began traveling north from Georgia on her Harley and ended up in Wisconsin. April senses Lonnie is troubled and it involves something more than grieving her husband’s death.

Lonnie believes that the motorcycle accident that caused her husband’s death is her fault and hopes running away from the weight of that guilt will make her feel better. But the guilt came right with her. A reasonable person can see that she had nothing to do with the accident which took place miles away from where Lonnie was at the time, yet she believes the accident was her fault. Here’s what I wrote while developing Lonnie’s story. I free-write my storyline and backstories before I write the actual scenes and this is how that looks.

What if Lonnie feels Keith’s accident is her fault. That the accident happened because he was on his way to do something that she didn’t do. If she’d done it, he wouldn’t have been on the road at the time the guy cut him off and sent him flying off the road and hitting the bridge head-on.
People have tried to convince her it was not her fault. That she had every good reason to not have done what she didn’t do, but she can’t let go of the guilt and along with that, the grief of losing him in a senseless accident. She’s directed her anger onto herself and not even at the guy who caused the accident.
Unable to handle this and unable to focus on her work, she quit her job, thinking that leaving Atlanta and going somewhere else will fix it.

Susan May Warren talks about another element related to showing the lie in her new book on craft called The Story Equation. Not only do we need to know the lie our character believes, but what the wound is that started the lie.  In other words, something had to have happened a long time before Lonnie’s husband’s death that caused her to think so irrationally. And that’s what I need to explore before I rewrite the scene.

Have you been employing the lies your characters believe about themselves? If not,  why not go to your current WIP and work that element into the story? You may be surprised at the results. Please share your thoughts in the comments!


A native of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, author Pamela S. Meyers lives in suburban Chicago with her two rescue cats. Her novels include Thyme for Love and her 1933 historical romance, Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin Her novella. What Lies Ahead, is part of a novella collection, The Bucket List Dare, which is now available at Amazon in both print and Kindle formats. Second Chance Love from Bling!, an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas, will release in January 2017. When she isn’t at her laptop writing her latest novel, she can often be found nosing around Wisconsin and other Midwestern spots for new story ideas.



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