2 Different Types of the Lie Your Character Believes by K.M. Weiland-Usa
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The Lie Your Character Believes. It’s the atom waiting to be split, the bomb waiting to go off, the change waiting to happen in your character’s life. Even when hidden beneath layers of plot and theme, the Lie Your Character Believesisyour story. You know this, of course. But did you know that sometimes there are two types of the Lie Your Character Believes?
The Lie Your Character Believes is the central cog in your character’s arc. This is so simply because the Lie is the reason change needs to happen—and therefore the reason there’s a story to tell in the first place. The Lie will inherently be opposed by a related Truth, and together they create the foundation for a cohesive and resonant plot and theme. (Note that in some stories, the protagonist is the one who believes the Lie; in others, the protagonist believes the Truth but is surrounded by supporting characters whose actions are informed by opposing Lies.)
Truly, there are as many different kinds of Lies as there are, well… lies. If it ain’t true, it has the possibility of driving character change in some way. The Lie might be something as trivial as Aunt Bea’s belief that her homemade pickles can win a blue ribbon when really they taste like kerosene, or it might be something as monumental as Javert’s belief that mercy and justice are mutually exclusive.
The shorthand for this is that there’s no limit on what kind of Lie Your Character Believes—as long as it drives the plot and engineers the theme. However, I feel it’s helpful to examine two particular categories into which your characters’ Lies might fit. Seeing the difference can help you know which is right for your story—or whether you might get extra mileage by dramatizing a related Lie for each category.
2 Types of the Lie Your Character Believes: Inner and Outer Lies
If you start examining Lies in popular stories—or your own stories—you’ll notice two different manifestations. Sometimes the Lie is one that exists mainly within the character’s inner self, driving the inner conflict. Other times, the Lie exists mainly within the character’s outer world, driving the outer conflict. This can be a tricky distinction, since the inner Lie will often affect the outer conflict and vice versa (after all, this is the essence of character driving plot).
We can think of this distinction, in very general terms, as the difference between a character-driven Lie and a plot-driven Lie. Again, this is a fine line, since the best stories are always strong in both plot and character. But you can easily spot the differences by examining stories that fall at opposite ends of the spectrum. Plot-driven stories often focus primarily on an outer-world Lie such as Hunger Games‘ Lie that “oppressive government is necessary” or Jurassic Park‘s Lie that “science should always be advanced.” Character-driven stories usually focus on an inner Lie, such as “men and women can’t be friends” inWhen Harry Met Sally or “money is the measure of worth” in A Christmas Carol.
An inner-world Lie will affect the character’s outer world, sometimes even to the point of becoming the outer world’s Lie. And vice versa, an outer-world Lie will likely become crucial to the character’s inner conflict and self-estimation.
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