Eight Lies Your Character Might Believe

By Pamela S. Meyers

One of the eye-opening
things I learned after I began writing fiction was that most people—if not
all—believe certain lies about themselves. If you write in Deep POV, assigning
one of the lies to your POV character is a sure-fire way of taking your readers
deep into the whys and wherefores of the character as the storyline develops.
I recently Googled “lies
people believe about themselves” and came up with a couple lists that cite ten
lies. Then, someone gave me a list of eight lies from a psychology-related
university study, and that list is below. I think most of us can look at these
characteristics and find themselves–perhaps not believing the lie now, but have believed it in the past. People can and do stop
believing the lie as they grow and learn more about themselves and their
circumstances. I’m living proof of that, but I’ll spare you the details. Authors should strive for to determine their characters’ lies while developing the
character arc for their heroine or hero. It’s so much easier to work it into the first draft rather than later when you are on the umpteenth draft. 
 Here’s the list. 
  1. I’m a disappointment.
  2. I’m not good enough (this is a very strong lie, often used for men
    and strong female leads)
  3. I’m not enough – or defective (similar to #1, but not exactly the same)
  4. I’m too much to handle and will get rejected. 
  5. It’s all my fault. 
  6. I’m helpless – powerless to fix (this leads to a fear of being
  7. I’m unwanted
  8. I’m bad (which could possibly be used as a symptom or excuse
    for another lie) 

When I’m developing
characters for a new story I keep this list handy and as their backstories
present themselves, I search for these hidden lies.
A while back I wrote a
story called Love Will Find a Way.
It’s no longer available except for used copies on the Internet, but I plan to
republish it under a different title after I’ve edited the story and deepened
the characters.
Included in the story is a
friend of April Love, the heroine. Lonnie shows up without warning on April’s
doorstep. A relatively new widow, she’d recently walked out on her job as a
sous chef and began traveling north from Georgia on her Harley and ended up in
Wisconsin. April senses Lonnie is troubled and it involves something more than
grieving her husband’s death.
Lonnie believes that the motorcycle accident that caused her husband’s
death is her fault and hopes running away from the weight of that guilt will
make her feel better. But the guilt came right with her. A reasonable person
can see that she had nothing to do with the accident which took place miles
away from where Lonnie was at the time, yet she believes the accident was her fault. Here’s what I wrote while developing
Lonnie’s story. I free-write my
storyline and backstories before I write the actual scenes and this is how
that looks.
What if Lonnie feels Keith’s accident
is her fault. That the accident happened because he was on his way
to do something that she didn’t do. If she’d done it, he wouldn’t have been on
the road at the time the guy cut him off and sent him flying off the road and hitting the bridge head-on.
People have tried to convince her it
was not her fault. That she had every good reason to not have done what she
didn’t do, but she can’t let go of the guilt and along with that, the grief of
losing him in a senseless accident. She’s directed her anger onto herself and
not even at the guy who caused the accident.
Unable to handle this and unable to
focus on her work, she quit her job, thinking that leaving Atlanta and going
somewhere else will fix it.
Susan May Warren talks
about another element related to showing the lie in her new book on craft
called The Story Equation. Not only
do we need to know the lie our character believes, but what the wound is that
started the lie.  In other words,
something had to have happened a long time before Lonnie’s husband’s death that
caused her to think so irrationally. And that’s what I need to explore before I
rewrite the scene.
Have you been employing
the lies your characters believe about themselves? If not,  why not go to your current WIP and work that
element into the story? You may be surprised at the results. Please share your thoughts in the comments!


A native
of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, author Pamela S. Meyers lives in suburban Chicago
with her two rescue cats. Her novels include Thyme for Love and her 1933
historical romance, Love Finds You in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin Her novella. What Lies Ahead, is part of a novella collection, The Bucket List Dare, which is now
available at Amazon in both print and Kindle formats. Second Chance Love from Bling!, an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing
of the Carolinas, will release in January 2017. When she isn’t at her laptop
writing her latest novel, she can often be found nosing around Wisconsin and
other Midwestern spots for new story ideas.