Five Lies Every Character/Writer Believes

by Angela Arndt, @aearndt 

Every good character has obstacles to keep him from reaching his goals. Whether your heroine is a nuclear scientist creating a secret device to save the world or a receptionist who’s secretly in love with the town doctor, any lie she believes that keeps her from reaching that goal must be exposed. It’s part of the plotting process.

Have you ever been in the middle of resolving that conflict and realized that the lie that your character believes is the same one you believe? Your secrets may not be as dramatic, but some part of you knows exactly how your character feels in that deepest, blackest moment.

Do these lies sound familiar?

  1. I’m Not Good Enough. If you’ve ever had a hero plagued by his past, you know how it can affect his actions. Whether it’s a murder or a lie, regret will keep him away from the future everyone else thinks he deserves.
    Your past may be brighter than a blizzard, but you still hear that lie when your manuscript is rejected. “If it’s not good enough, I’m not good enough.”
  2. No One Loves Me. The fraternal twin to the first lie, this one is based on fear. If your heroine pushes everyone away, she’s been hurt very badly. Her past is the key to her future.
    If you’ve ever lost someone, you may think no one will ever love you again. Being alone has a deep hurt and this lie runs just as deep.
  3. It’s My Job to Make Everyone Happy. This is the clown who makes things happen, always helpful, always understanding. But behind his sunny attitude, he’s paying penance for sin.
    What’s wrong with being a people-pleaser? Everything. You’re serving them instead of God. Your writing ends up on a digital back shelf and you never become who God made you to be.
  4. I’m Not Enough. This heroine twists her hair and bites her fingernails. She wishes she had blond hair instead of mousy brown. She’s so busy worrying about who she isn’t, she misses the boy who thinks she’s perfect.
    Comparing your stats (websites, social media numbers, contests results) to other writers’ is always a bad idea. Keep repeating this lie and you’ll convince everybody else.
  5. No One Else is Good Enough. The antagonist who believes this lie is the inspector who keeps the café from opening. He’s the director that makes the leading lady cry. But dig down deep: he doesn’t think he’s good enough either.

Lies make good stories and good walls. They separate friends and family, stifle creativity and most of all they keep us from having a solid relationship with our God.

There’s one truth that wipes out all, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16.

Know this truth: He loves you, pubbed, un-pubbed, or pre-pubbed. His love covers all.

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Angela Arndt writes women’s fiction with a thread of romance, telling stories of strong, independent women in difficult situations set in small Southern towns. Her biggest hope is that she will encourage others to overcome their “back roads” and find their own joy in the Lord. Visit her at angelaarndt.com.

Why readers fall in love with your stories

Hope you’re writing week is off to a great start.

Me…I’m in a show hole.

You know, that darkness that you fall into when you finish a great show and you know that nothing, not even reruns of Quantum Leap, will fix it.

But, the darkness does allow you time for contemplation as you mindlessly flip through Netflix offerings. Why, oh why, did I love that show so much.

So, I confess, the show I am missing today is Hell on Wheels. I know, I know, it has some historical issues, and before you judge me on the violence, I watched it with the hubs, who loves cowboy shows. And this is about as cowboy as you get.

But I watched it for the lead, Cullen Bohannon.

Image result for cullen bohannon

If you haven’t seen it, I’m not going to give anything away, but I will say that it’s not for the fainthearted. It’s a rough-edged western about the building of the transcontinental railroad. I’m pretty sure not a lot of it is factual, but who knows.

Let’s skip to the important part—Cullen Bohannon. Aside from being darkly handsome, I loved the deeply layered character who came to the page, with all his issues, his unshakable honor (although one might have a conversation about what his definition of honor is) and his determination to build the railroad. Most of all, I love how the writers took Cullen from a stereotyped, angry former confederate soldier with a jaded, broken heart, bent on revenge to a man who won the hearts of his workers, found compassion and finally followed his healing heart to the woman he loves.

It took five seasons. And I can imagine that the writers started with a prototype, not unlike we do when we start building The Story Equation. They began with an adjective and a noun. Angry Former Confederate Soldier. Angry—why? Because he’d lost his wife and child to Yankee bandits. The Former Confederate Soldier description brings in all sorts of external images—stoic, a southern accent, a sense of upper-crust breeding (he was a plantation owner) reflected in his clothing (he always wears a vest with a pocket watch). Still, he’s a renegade with long hair, a beard and a quick draw.

When you’re building a character, start with an adjective and a noun. The adjective helps you understand your character’s state of mind as he walks onto the page, and helps you discover the inner journey. The Noun gives you his externals.

But that’s just the beginning. As you write your story, the goal is for the reader to discover your hero’s essence. Who is he on the inside?

As Cullen moves the railroad west, he has a few love interests, and each of them get a glimpse of the essence of Cullen Bohannon. One sees the wounds he suffered, as well as the gentleman in him. Another sees the fierce protector as well as the wanna-be family man. The last sees his good heart, that he really does want to do what’s right. In fact, she tells him, “I see you.”

At his heart, Cullen is a hero, a man deeply affected by his times, but someone who is willing to sacrifice anything to do (what he considers) is the right thing.

Your job, as an author, is to bring the essence of your character to the surface. To reveal him, through his actions and choices. To help the reader “see” your character.

One way I do this is to ask: Can my character do something at the end, that he can’t at the beginning? And, if so, why? (and can my reader see the why, that motivation?)

Telling a great story about an epic event like building a transcontinental railroad is only as good as the characters who embody your story. Start them out with an external identity…but slowly reveal their essence, and I promise you, readers will fall in love.

Now, anybody have any good shows they’d like to suggest?

Your story matters! Go, Write Something Brilliant!

 

Susie May

P.S. If you are in a “career” hole and don’t know what to do next, may I suggest checking out the Author Mastermind Summit? It’s a 2-day, online event (you can register for the recordings if you think you’re going to miss) that coaches you on writing, platform development and effective marketing (even time-saving techniques) from 7 Masterminds who I know and trust. There are some pretty fantastic give-aways and I know this online summit will be an amazing boost to your career. Check it out, and if you have any questions, shoot me an email! susan@mybooktherapy.com.

P.P.S If you are interested in The Story Equation, how to build a layered story by asking one essential question, check out the book on Amazon, or our full classes at Novel.Academy

What are you reading?

What are you reading?

I asked this question to approximately 40 aspiring writers this weekend as I sat across from them at a table during our private one-on-one sessions at the Northwestern Christian Writers Conference. A few of them would tell me of a story that they were reading, a bestseller perhaps or some obscure book from series they liked. And then I would ask them is this story in the genre you are writing?

Only a couple nodded. The rest sort of shrugged and said, “well, no, I actually don’t read in my genre.”

What?

They followed up with, “I really prefer this genre over the one that I’m writing.”

“Then why are you writing in that genre?” I asked. “Because if you don’t love it then why spend all that time writing in it?”

And, honestly, I was astounded at those that admitted they weren’t reading. They were simply writing.

Writing is GOOD, very good for a writer. But…how will you know what to write in the genre, if you’re not reading in that genre?

Becoming an author isn’t an instinct…it’s a craft. It’s something you need to be proactive about. But you can’t be trained by simply going to writer’s conferences, or reading books on writing. (Although, I do understand that I have a writing website, and teach people how to write on it! So I definitely want you to stop by and take a look!)

Of course learning the craft through classes is essential as you pursue your writing craft. But you need application as well. Which means you need to learn from those who are already exercising the craft. Reading a writing book is fantastic when you then take those lessons and apply them to a book by, say, John Grisham. Or Stephen King. Or Harlan Coben. Or Nora Roberts. Or any of the bestsellers that we find on the New York Times, USA Today, Amazon, CBA, and ECPA bestseller lists. You must look at those who are already good at their craft, already making sales, already connecting with their audiences, to understand how to apply those writing techniques.

Analyze, then turn to your own work.

The learning curve is steep for an aspiring writer. You must learn how to plot, how to create great characters, how to layer in metaphors, how to create scene tension, how to create storyworld, how to make sure the middle doesn’t sag, and do it all in a way that doesn’t stunt your voice. Don’t make it tougher on yourself by having to learn a genre that you’re not already familiar with. When we read, the elements of the genre we’re reading naturally sink into us. Those who write suspense instinctively know they need to set up a problem, illustrate that problem by having a danger or a dead body at the beginning of the book, create a trigger that ignites the suspense plot, add a deadline and utilize a number of other elements to create the suspense. But because they’ve invested in reading suspense, they already understand these elements. They just need to learn HOW to implement them (cue: writing classes!)

Same with romances. All romance writers know they need a “meet cute” at the beginning. They need a reason for the hero and heroine to spend time together. They know there needs to be at least a breakup even if they don’t know how to create it or why. And they know there needs to be a happy ending.

Reading in your genre is essential to understanding that genre.

Summer is busy. Family vacations, kids at home, visiting relatives. It can be hard to study the writing craft. Instead, I give you permission to turn to novels. Read a novel in your genre. Get it into your heart, if not your head. You might not have time to analyze it but if you’re reading it you’ve already learned something.

I have a strategy. During the week I read for work–I read research books, biographies, and novel about my topic. Right now I’m reading a novel in a first person voice, similar to one I’m working on.

On the weekends I read for pleasure. I find a book that’s going to delight my heart. On Monday I go back to reading in my genre—my work.

Here’s the secretwhen someone asks me what I’m doing when I’m sprawled on the sofa in the middle of the afternoon, listening to music, my feet up, the laundry undone and supper forgotten, reading a book, and eating bon-bons (really, what are bon-bons, anyway?) I can turn to them and say… I’m working! Can’t you tell?

So, pick up a book and read something brilliant this summer!

I have a couple great events coming up.

One of them is a career building event that will help you figure out how to launch your writing career. It’s a summit I’m involved with along with a number of other masterminds in the industry. It’s awesome and it’s only $99 during the early bird! You don’t want to miss it because it will ignite your publishing career.

The next thing you might want to take a look at is our Deep Woods Writing Camp! It’s an intense week of writing for authors at every level. (If you’re new, you might have some prerequisites for you to prepare, so check with me first (susan@mybooktherapy.com)) If you’re a little farther down the road, spend a week with me in the north woods of Minnesota, writing, getting feedback on your stories, and brainstorming with other authors. I can’t wait to come alongside you and help you write your brilliant story.

Your story matters! Go! Write something brilliant!

Susie May

www.learnhowtowriteanovel.com