Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How to Reinforce Your Character's Lie

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.



We've talked before on Go Teen Writers about the value of finding a lie for your character to believe. This is a technique both Jill and I use and love for developing rich conflict within our characters, especially our main characters.

But it's not enough to just assign a lie to your main character. You should have the lie crop up in the character's internal monologue a time or two, and it's even better when you can find another character to reinforce the lie your main character believes. 



I'm going to use Tangled as an example because many of us have seen it, and because the writers did such a great job with reinforcing the lie.

So our kick-butt heroine, Rapunzel, has pushed past her fears of the plague and men with pointy teeth. She's left her tower, battled away the guilt of betraying her "mother", and tamed a bar full of ruffians who want to skewer her guide.

The lie she believed in the beginning, that she wasn't strong enough to make it in the world outside her tower, is long gone. After overcoming several obstacles, Rapunzel now feels she can take care of whatever the world throws at her.

Cue the need for the lie to be reinforced.

When Flynn leaves camp for a few minutes, the villain, Mother Gothel, takes advantage of the opportunity to pounce on Rapunzel. Rapunzel refuses to go with her. After all, she just survived a near-drowning and had a "moment" with the very cute guy taking her to see the floating lanterns. She's not going anywhere.

Mother Gothel mocks her for being naive. "Look at you," she says. "You think that he's impressed?" Once again, Gothel sets herself up as the person who knows how the world works and Rapunzel as the one who doesn't. She tells Rapunzel what she knows but has conveniently forgotten - Flynn is in this to get the crown back.

Even though Rapunzel still refuses to leave with Mother Gothel, the lie that Rapunzel believed in the beginning of the story has been reinforced.

This scene does a beautiful job of setting up Rapunzel's doubts when Flynn disappears and Mother Gothel comes to her rescue. It's easy to understand why Rapunzel lapses into believing her mother must know best, and that she is just a gullible, naive girl, who can't last more than 24 hours in the world outside the tower.

Having the lie reinforced by another character will make your main character's victory so much more rewarding.

Writing exercise - make it your own!:
In your book, who does your main character trust? How can that person reinforce the main character's lie at a critical point in the story?

Also, Friday is the last day to sign up to be a part of the third 100 for 100 challenge. I'll be sending an email out to the participants later today, which will include instructions and guidelines and stuff. So far we've had almost 200 writers sign up for the challenge, and we would love for you to join us!

34 comments:

  1. Whoa... I never thought of it like this before! This helps so much!!! :D and cant wait for instructions! :) thanks so much for everything you do! (especially on this blog!)

    ~Tw~

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  2. In my story, my MC says that a long time ago he found out that his father died from a runaway cart. As the story goes along, the MC begins to wonder if that really happened.

    Then it isn't until later that my MC finds....

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  3. This is a great post! I will need this for a character in my next novel which I will be working on during 100 4 100. And not only did my brother and Dad sign up to do 100 4 100, (my Dad signed up for real this time : ) my two nine year old siblings wanted to do it too! We'll see how long they last, but they should have fun.

    Side note: My Dad was going to use the pen name "Frank Hardy." Can you guess what he writes? : )

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    1. I adore that this is a family event at your house, Alyson. Thanks so much for sharing that.

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  4. I loved Tangled! Rapunzel was a wonderful heroine :)

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    1. Me too. And so does my sister Jenna. We used to tie pieces of yarn to the ends of our hair so we could pretend. :)

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  5. I wish I could do the challenge, but I am editing two stories and will not have the time.

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    1. Completely understand! We do two of these a year, so maybe in the spring!

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  6. This was so helpful!! Haha I love Tangled. I'm convinced my sister has a crush on Flynn Rider...or did, until she replaced him with Harry Styles. Sigh...

    Oh, and I signed up for 100 for 100, but I'm not sure I'll be able to now. I'm going to be super busy this year -- especially the months leading up to Christmas -- and I'd like to focus on editing the project I've already written. Might have to drop out. So sorry, Stephanie!

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    1. No problem, Hannah. Totally understand.

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    2. I laughed so hard when I read your first paragraph. That's really funny :)

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  7. I just answered the Story Brainstorming Questions for a new project and now I see I made a good choice letting the best friend of my MC a kind of 'go to the other camp'.

    I've planned to join 100-4-100, but I finished a first draft today and had to come up with an idea for the challenge a bit fast. But it came to me, fortunately ;-)

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  8. I love Tangled!... and this totally makes sense! I love all the writing ideas you post :)

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  9. I'm writing a Christian YA series. The MC starts out not being a Christian and knows only a little about Christianity: if you don't convert, you'll got to Hell. Basically. The main villain takes what little she knows and twists it into thinking the Christians are ruthless murderers of anyone who refuses their religion. This leads to her betrayal of a Christian underground. Not entirely parallel with the Tangled illustration, but it definitely is a lie.

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  10. Aah!! My characters always turn out clinched, "cardboard", and two dimensional. So far, the only strong character is my FMC (who is not the protagonist).

    Oh well, writing brings joy and frustration.

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    1. We all have different problem areas in our writing. At least you've identified yours!

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  11. Cool!! I use the Fear + Lie + Need method I found on another blog. Works pretty good :) :)

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    1. That's a great equation! Thanks for sharing :)

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  12. Question: Can your character be bombarded with a lie (one she has never believed) and she have to struggle not to believe it?

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    1. That's what I'm doing in my story too. In the beginning my MC doesn't believe the lie, but as the story progresses she becomes more and more sure her dream really is impossible. I think it works. The lie isn't something that has to be there, it's something that makes your character more complex, and the struggle to combat the lie she is bombarded with also makes your character complex.

      Or you could do both. Like. everyone tells your character she can't make it as an artist and she tries to pursue art anyway despite failures. But then she also thinks no guy could ever like her because she's so serious about everything. Just the first thing that popped into my head. But there could be two.

      Sorry for the long response. I'm off to see if I can think of a second lie for my MC :)

      I hope that helped, even though it was probably just really confusing...

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    2. Actually Maya that makes perfect sense. Thanks!

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  13. In my WIP, my FMC Sammi believes that she can trust Xel but he betrays her. Later on in the trilogy, she discovers that he was only protecting her from death which lead to a betrayal-seeming act. As it turns out, he really did care for her and she really could trust him.

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  14. Curious, what would Walter White's lie be in Breaking Bad? Or the MC character in Dexter or Madmen? Thanks

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  15. My character thinks she's perfect,but I don't know how to reinforce it or why she even thinks that. It just really fits with the story

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  16. This Will Make Things So Much Easier And Change The Way I Write! Thanks!

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