One of the great joys of writing stories is creating characters. It’s so much fun to envision what someone might look like, sound like, and be like in the world of your story. Any writer familiar with pre-planning stages will be familiar with those lengthy character bios and protagonist worksheets that make you answer every question about your character from their favorite subject in school to their worst fears. But as I’ve been researching more into writing techniques, I’ve stumbled upon a fundamental question that writers don’t often ask of their characters; what does my character believe to be true despite that truth actually being a lie? In essence, what is this character’s misbelief?
The whole point of telling a story at the point which you tell it is because it’s literally the most important moment in your character’s life. This story, this sequence of events, will essentially alter their entire world. How can someone’s life be completely transformed? When they realize that something they so intensely believed is actually the furthest thing from the truth.
Think about one of your favorite stories. How does the character change from the beginning to the end? Most likely, it’s because something that they believed in heatedly is actually not what is true at all, and usually that truth is a central theme in the story.
For example, a character could start the
story believing that they are unworthy, perhaps because somewhere in their
backstory, an incident occurred that made them think this. Then the story
launches into full form, dragging the character through experiences that alter
their sense of self and towards an a-ha moment where that truth is revealed as
a lie and their sense of worthiness develops. Viewing things like plot and
character development in this way versus simply seeing a story as a sequence of
events has really helped me dig deeper into my own writing.
It’s so easy to make excuses to not write. Besides the traditional reasons like lack of time, inspiration, or endurance, using the excuse of “I don’t know what I’m doing” or “I don’t know where to start” are great ways of letting those unfinished ideas drift into the abyss. Even though I have a fancy piece of paper from a fancy university that says I should know how to write, it’s still one of the hardest things to do. From character development to subplots to the type of language you choose, the technicalities of writing can lead even the most motivated writer to giving up the whole thing. To yank me out of this mentality and really get this ball rolling, I’ve recently found an awesome resource on Daily Om called How to Write Your First Book.
This blog-style course is really helpful in just getting down to it. You want to write? Well…then you have to write, and not just scribbles of ideas and hopeful dreams. You have to get into the trenches and answer those questions. What is the story? Who are the characters? How will you make the audience care about them? This course does a great job of literally giving you the questions and saying “okay, it’s up to you. Answer them.” As I’ve gone through the course, I realize so much of gearing up to write is about taking it one question at a time. I’ve spent an entire week mulling over one question until the answer showed up. When it did, I felt more confident in how much stronger my story’s foundation was.
Even when writing plot, the best way to tackle such a gargantuan task is to simply ask what could happen.
When you answer that question, ask it again. Then again. Then asks things like “who is my main character at the end of all of this? Why did I just take my audience on this journey?” By the end of those questions, the answers will be the skeleton of your work.
I think right now my biggest struggle with writing is relying on my own brain power to answer all of these questions. Being a writer means being decisive. You are the ruler of this kingdom, the god of this world, and it’s a lot of pressure to make so many decisions! But with each choice you make, it gets a little easier, and your writing gets clearer.