Characters: The Lie They Believe

Photo by Mike Erskine

Humans crave stories because it makes us feel as if we have control over the world. There are scientific benefits to reading fiction, according to Joseph Carroll at the University of Missouri-St Louis. He states that “It teaches us about other people and it’s a practice in empathy and theory of mind.”

More than that, there has been research done to see how reading or hearing stories affect our brains. The amygdala and medial prefrontal cortex are activated during these times, increasing cognitive thought that lets us empathize with other people.

The key to empathizing with other people is the use of themes in stories. Themes tie in with the lie your character believes, and often can’t be torn apart because this theme creates the plot. It creates the point of your story.

The Lie

Photo by Marc Kleen

A good way to define the theme of your story is to look at the lie your character believes, and vice-versa. Most characters have a change-arc, whether it’s a positive arc or a negative arc. There is a huge lie they’ve believed most of their life, and it’s affected every choice they’ve ever made, large and small scale.

It’s hella (I’ve always wanted to use that word) important to make sure your character’s false belief ties into the theme into a hella way (Okay, that’s out of my system).

Most of us have a lie we believe in real life. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • We are unworthy of love
  • We are bad
  • We are better than others
  • Relationships will always turn out badly
  • Marriage is a scam
  • You can’t trust anyone
  • You don’t need anyone

Check out K.M. Weiland’s site for more on the lie, and a few more examples.

The lie your character believes is just that…a belief. Now, not all characters have a changing arc, but the majority do. They start off believing something, a flaw or a downright lie they were once told about themselves, regardless of how well off they are or how happy they seem to be.

It’s the little voice in the back of their head telling them they can’t do it, or they don’t deserve it. Your character will kick in scream their way out of change because change is uncomfortable. It’s scary. They’d rather believe their lie than go through the growth it’ll take to change.

And it’ll stop them from achieving their biggest plot goal.

Chances are, your character won’t see their lie as a lie. If it were that easy, they’d have attempted to change it long before the story-time, knowing it held them back. It’s a coping mechanism, something felt deep inside to keep them safe. They’re going to hang onto it by the teeth if they must.

Without the Lie, there is no story;

K.M Weiland

It’ll take the experiences your character is going to have throughout the rest of the book for them to confront their lie and therefore, confront the antag. Or not. In negative arc changes, the character fails at confronting their lie, and losing their fight with the antag. Or the lie gets bigger.

The lie teaches the reader something. Not in a preachy way, but humans crave stories with lessons they can relate to, that makes them feel and think.

Cause and Effect

Photo by Bas Emmen

To figure out your character’s lie is not enough. You must figure out the reasoning behind the lie. Brain-storm what could have happened to your character that would make them believe it. This wasn’t a concept they were born with, but rather an experience they had that was so damaging, they refuse to believe anything else.

Think about a time an experienced shaped your beliefs. It can be good or it can be bad, but imagine how strongly you felt during the experience. If it was a bad experience, you probably sought reasoning for it, even if there was no valid one. We all know things sometimes happen that we have no control over.

It’s normal to want to understand why bad things happen to us. In fact, it’s ingrained in our DNA to put a reason to it. Cause and effect. We did this, and this happened as a result of it. Sometimes there is a logical reason behind us. We were ticketed for speeding. We now try not to speed. Some events that happen have no good reasoning, like childhood abuse. Chances are, though, if this happened to you, you believed it was your fault. Now you believe you are innately bad, and when adult abuse happens, you aren’t too surprised.

The lie will affect every aspect of your character’s life once it’s ingrained in them. It’s sad for the character, but it’s all too real. Use it to create conflict and tension. Because it happens in real life, your readers will empathize with your character. And when/if they stop believing in the lie, readers will likely find strength in these moments.

What are some other character lies you’ve read about or viewed? Leave a comment below, and don’t forget to like, share, and follow!

K.L Reeder is an aspiring author. She studies Creative Writing at SNHU, with a minor in Psychology. She resides in central PA with her toddler son and little dog.

3 thoughts on “Characters: The Lie They Believe

  1. Although I am not so much a fiction writer I still like reading your posts because they make me think and, as in ‘art reflecting life’, I can take your words and see it in real life people, just like the characters you mention here. Good work, keep it up.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jim, I’m glad you like the posts! I will certainly keep trying to detail the posts as well as I can. Writing is all about making readers see through the eyes of the author (in a way that doesn’t insert said author into the reader’s life lol). Writing is mirroring real life, so I take it as a win that you can see it that way!



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