Lies! Lies! Lies!

by Ane Mulligan, @AneMulligan

Susie and Rachel are fabulous at characterization. It was Rachel who started my passion for character motivation when staying with me one weekend. She was here in Atlanta to speak to our ACFW chapter. Being one to take advantage of all opportunities—hey, my mama didn’t raise a dummy—I told her how I was stuck in what would turn out to be my first published novel.
“So,” she asked me, “what’s the husband’s problem?”

The husband? “He doesn’t need one. He’s not a POV character.”

“Wrong, Grasshopper. All characters need a problem.”

Well, I’ll be. I sat down and figured out his problem, and bingo …the story kicked back into gear and raced to the end. Who knew?

Not long after that, I sat brainstorming with another writer. She told me about the lies people believe. She had studied psychology in college and this came from that course. From her, I learned that almost everyone believes a lie about themselves. These are seated in early childhood, before we gain the ability to reason them away. It’s this Lie that reinforces the dark wound that arises later in our characters’ lives.

Example: your character believes the Lie that s/he isn’t good enough. Maybe their parents divorced when the child was very young. The child believes if s/he were good enough daddy (or mama) wouldn’t have left.

The Lie will color this child’s personality and affect their worldview. She will spend her life trying to prove it wrong or fall victim to it. If trying to prove it wrong during adolescence, this kid might become a bully, trying to prove he’s good/big/tough enough. If she falls victim to the Lie, she wouldn’t try out for cheerleading. She isn’t good enough.

As she grows up, she has a dream of playing a lead role on Broadway but never would audition for one, because she buys into the Lie she isn’t good enough. Fast forward to the day this character is left at the altar by her fiancé, and her Lie is now compounded, fully accepted, and that becomes a dark wound, severely damaging the character’s self worth.

From the Lie, you discover the motivation, and you can plot a novel through your character’s motivation. Know that and you know how they would react to any given situation.

There are 8 basic lies people (and our characters) believe. For use in a novel, you can vary these slightly, but to build a relatable character, you should stick pretty close to one of these, and remember, to each of these basic lies, there are shades and symptoms.

  1. I’m a disappointment
  2. Not good enough (this is a very strong lie, often used for men and strong female leads)
  3. I’m not enough – or defective
  4. I’m too much to handle and will get rejected
  5. It’s all my fault
  6. Helpless – powerless to fix (this leads to a fear of being controlled)
  7. Unwanted/unlovable
  8. I’m bad (which could possibly be used as a symptom or excuse for another lie)

Your characters will either fall victim to their lie or they will try to prove it wrong. Try finding your character’s Lie and see where it takes you.


Lie leads to motivation. Motivation leads to plot.~ Ane Mulligan (Click to Tweet)

You can plot a novel through character motivation.~ Ane Mulligan (Click to Tweet)

Coming Home ~ A Tiny House Collection

Tiny houses are all the rage these days, but what can you do with something so small? Here are seven stories about people chasing their dreams, making fresh starts, finding love, stumbling upon forgiveness, and embarking upon new adventures in tiny houses. Travel with them around the country in this big novella collection.

Love is Sweeter in Sugar Hill: She has a tiny house. He lives in a mansion. She vows to charge a doctor with malpractice. His job depends on that doctor’s finances. Will love find a way?

While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, award-winning author Ane Mulligan has worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that’s a fancy name for a lobbyist), drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and multi-published novelist. She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups and resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband. You can find Ane on her website, Amazon Author page, Novel Rocket, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+.