Friday, August 27, 2010

'Fess Up

What’s your lie?

Don’t hold back. ‘Fess up. We all have at least one. Really. Dig deep.

It might be buried under the surface of your busy life, but a year from now, or maybe a month from now you’ll have an “aha” moment and realize that your lie was just that—a lie; that somewhere, hidden beneath the junk in your trunk, is a truth that contradicts your lie. That’s your character arc. That’s your story.

Get it?

Let me explain.

Think back to when you were a teenager. Remember thinking that your parents didn’t know a thing, or that love would conquer all, or maybe you thought that the key to success was making large sums of money? But over a period of time you realized that your parents actually knew more than you, that love didn’t conquer all, and that success wasn’t measured by the amount of money you made. These truths weren’t learned in a day and didn’t drop out of the sky. There were specific life events that contributed to your aha moments.

Let’s pretend. What if we wrote a story about Crystal—a young teenager who had few friends, walked with her hair in her face and her shoulders slumped. She talked in a whisper and had poor eye contact. At first glance we might think she’s shy, and has low self-esteem, but buried beneath the surface is a girl who’s ashamed because she believes that she’s unworthy of anyone’s love or attention—a lie. Somehow something in Crystal’s past has made her believe this lie.

It’s our job as storytellers to take Crystal on a journey for the truth. She needs to change by the end of our story, but how? By taking her through a sequence of events that prove to her and our readers that what she thought was the truth was really a lie. Unfortunately, just like in real life, this transformation doesn't happen over night. It takes time and positive influences for this change to happen. This change is the character arc.

Many months ago my writing buddy referred me to Susan May Warren’s website One of the many things I’ve learned from this site is defining my story lie. Before I visited this website I’d never thought of my characters having a lie.

When I interviewed Susan May Warren I asked her, “How has each of your books allowed God to pour truth into your life?”

I loved her answer:

“In the spiritual journey of each one of my books, there is some sort of “lie” a character believes…so, as I research the elements of this lie, I always then counter it with the truth. And I believe the truth can only be found in God’s word. So, I spend a lot of time digging into His word and unearthing that truth for my character…and for me! My faith grows with every story – not only seeing God provide, but as God speaks His truth into my life, for my characters.”

So, take a minute. Think. What is your character’s lie? If she doesn’t have one maybe you could dig deep through your own personal junk in your trunk and find one. Give that lie to your character. Let her work through the scenes in her life as if they’re your own to find the truth. Chances are pretty good that if you’re struggling, so are many of your readers. They’ll be able to identify with your protagonist and relate—and that’s a good thing. Not?

And, if you’re personally struggling with a lie, search for ways to counter that lie through prayer and meditation, so you may find the truth that sets you free and gives you the character arc of wisdom.


  1. Wonderful post, Michelle! Great job of explaining the lie and its link to the character arc. Your relating it to *ouch* our own lies and overcoming them helped make things clear. A further note--someone in the ACFW online class said we should make every conflict in the story "beat on" the character's lie--another good insight .

  2. I echo the sentiment from Steph. Thanks, Michelle. Susan May Warren has been a great source of encouragement in my own writing journey. I smiled as I began reading your post because I suspected you'd mention Susan and My Book Therapy. I'll confess that the "lie your character believes" was one of the hardest concepts for me to grasp. Delving into a character to discover his/her lie is one of the best ways to fully develop your story, I've learned. It's the root of insecurities, and prompts certain behaviors, reactions, thoughts and conversations from your characters. It's an eye-opener. I hope you join the MBT group for Monday night chats (currently on hiatus but starting again soon)!
    Blessings to you.

  3. Thanks for reminding readers about the Monday night chats. I love them. I've learned so much from the chats and the archives. Thanks for all you do!

  4. Thanks for the great post. For years I did not think my parents loved me. And also that God could not love me.

    Would love to write stories that bring healing to others.

  5. Wait a minute...let's not get too personal here--couldn't it be a story about, let's say, Mary or Debbie or maybe Alice????

    And ironically, when I was a teen, my name was Crystal Warren (reference to Susan May Warren) so, yeah, this is TOO personal! LOL.

    Good info, Michelle.

  6. Oh, Sharon. I'm so sorry. I cannot imagine a day not feeling loved, ever. Hearing this makes me want to give you a big hug--even though it sounds like those days are in the past.