If You Give a Character a Lie …

If You Give a Character a Lie …

 If you give a character a Lie that is tied to some Dark Moment in his past … he is going to believe it.

 And if he believes it … he is going to act certain ways in both his relationships with people and with God.

 And if his relationships with people and with God are influenced by a Lie he believes, than he’s going to make mistakes – both with the people he loves and the God who loves him.

With that brief nod to If You Give a Mouse a Cookie by children’s author Laura Numeroff, let’s talk about why lies can be good things – at least within the context of writing compelling characters.

We are taught early and often that it’s wrong to tell lies, but it’s not until much later in life that we are taught not to embrace lies. But by then, it’s too late – we’ve listened to lies about ourselves and believe them to be true.

While we often carry around a multitude of lies-that-we-believe-are-true, there is usually one lie – the LIE – that affects us more than all the others. This Lie is created by some sort of Dark Moment in our past – an experience that wounded us emotionally and possibly physically.

In Catch a Falling Star, my 2013 release, my heroine Kendall believes the Lie that she will never be picked. Why? Because she had severe childhood asthma, and was one of those kids in school who was never picked in gym class. Her Dark Moment, which involved her high school hopes for romance, proved the “I’ll never be picked” Lie in the worst possible way.

Why is it good for Kendall to believe this Lie? Our fictional characters need to believe a Lie – and as the author of their stories, we need to know what their Lies are.

Your characters’ pasts – who they were before they appeared on page one of your manuscript – determines why they say certain things. Why they make certain decisions. Why they stiff-arm God. Why they want nothing to do with love.

Think of wrapping a thin piece of rope around a wooden top and then releasing it to spin, spin, spin … and topple. The rope represents your character’s Lie. The Lie influences your character’s choices and beliefs because they believe the Lie is true.

When you are crafting a story, forget the adage not to tell lies. As an author, you want to craft characters that readers care about. One key to doing that is to create the Lies your hero and heroine believe. You understand how one major Lie affects them – emotionally and spiritually. Use the Lie to deepen your story. Then weave in the spiritual truth and allow God to heal the Lie. You’ve created true-to-life fictional characters. After all, we’ve all believed lies about ourselves and about God because of our own Dark Moments in our pasts. And we know the release – the freedom – in discovering and embracing the truth.

What about you? Are you telling your imaginary characters Lies?

[Tweet “If You Give a Character a Lie @bethvogt #writer #characters”]

Avoiding The Gilmore Girls Syndrome

Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of the Gilmore Girls.

I’m watching the series for the fourth or fifth time.

So, all due respect! It’s a fine, quirky show with stellar dialog.

But toward the end, things aren’t as satisfying.

The writers gave Luke a surprise daughter and made him confused about his relationship with her.

So much so, he and Lorelai called of their engagement.

We spend the next season and a half waiting for them to get back together.

And they do! (Yay!) But on the very last show!

We were denied the wedding! The full circle of their relationship.

Same with Rory and Logan.

We endure all of their ups and downs, cheer for them, yell at them, cry with them, then when Logan proposes, Rory turns him down!

Rory, who likes things planned and figured out, who knew she was going to Harvard when she was three, turned down the man she loved for three years.

The one who put her through so much! She actually turned him down.

What? We are denied, again, the cumulation of a Gilmore Girl relationship.

The final scene mirrors the final scene of the pilot:

Lorelai and Rory sitting in Luke’s diner, talking, drinking coffee, dreaming of the future.

I get it. Bookends. Ending the way the story began.

I recommend writing with bookends. Ending the book the way it began only showing the advancement of the protagonist(s).

In my book Sweet Caroline, the heroine enters the story driving a broken down ’67 Mustang toward a broken future.

She leaves the story on a jet airplane toward a bright future.

What if Caroline turned down the jet airplane opportunity and drove out of the story in her ’67 Mustang? Even if she had a promise of a somewhat better future than she did in the beginning?

I think the reader would’ve felt “blah” about the story. “Nothing changed. Nothing really happened. We just went through a series of events!”

In essence, Gilmore Girls ended the way it began. In a broken down ’67 Mustang.

What if the show ended with Luke and Logan sitting at the table with Lorelai and Rory?

What if Rory said yes and Luke and Lorelai were married?

Would it change anything about the “Gilmore Girls?”

Not at all. Those “Gilmore Girls” hooked the men of their dreams. They won! They matured, advanced and achieved.

Instead, we’re back to where they started only 7 years older.

Darn it, I want to go to Luke and Lorelai’s wedding! I want to see Rory sporting a honking big Logan diamond.

So, how does this apply to your novels?

Easy! Your characters have to mature and advance.

If they story opens with your hero and heroine fighting and not getting along, in the end, they have to get along!

I know it seems simple, of course the hero and heroine get together.

But how have you advanced their personality.

Have they had the epiphany?

Did they learn the lie was indeed a lie and embraced truth.

We’ve all read novels before where it doesn’t seem the characters changed at all. Or very little.

So let them change! Let them breathe and grow.

Even if your story is about two sisters, how does their sisterly relationship change so that the bond is deeper and broader?

The end of Gilmore Girls we see and feel they are exactly where they were in the beginning. Boring!

So, your characters have to embrace more of truth and life by the end of the story.

This is what we call “What Can They Do In The End That They Can’t Do In The Beginning?”

As you’re planning your story, even if you’re a pantser, consider, what will my character be able to do in the end he can’t do in the beginning?

In Sweet Caroline, Caroline was able to let go of the man she loved while he dumped on her and take a chance at doing something she wants instead of doing something everyone else wants her to do.

In Once Upon A Prince, King Nathaniel can face his parliament and tell them they need to reverse an old marriage law impacting only royals. He can admit he loves Susanna.

In Princess Ever After, Tanner can admit he messed up concerning his girls and bring them into his life. And heal his relationship with his dad.

See where I’m going with this?

You’ve got to deepen and broaden you character to yes, look like your character but embracing more than life.  Your characters must mature.

How do you do this?

1. Figure out the character’s problem. What do he fear? What’s the lie he believe?

2. Consider what the epiphany might be related to breaking the fear and turning the lie to truth. Like, God does really forgive. Or his father never abandoned him.

3. Then give a physical action to the epiphany. Make sense? Some how you have to “show” how they “do” in the end what they couldn’t do in the beginning. Admit something, do something, accept something.


Consider your story. What can your protagonist not do in the beginning that he’ll be able to do in the end.

Happy Writing!

The Final Battle: Wrapping up the Inner Journey for your Hero

We’ve been talking the past two weeks about the Black Moment, and the importance of it in our hero’s and heroine’s journey.  Just to reiterate, without the Black Moment, there is no point to the journey of our character, no moment of change.  It’s in the Black Moment that they discover why they’ve gone on this journey.  If you’ve added in a romantic thread, it’s when they lose the one they love, and realize they can’t live without them.  It’s also when they learn they must change in order to get what they want.  (or accomplish the goal they’ve set out to at the beginning of the story).

Now that our hero has confronted his Black Moment and seen the light, then we’re NEARLY ready to finish our story.  But, we have to know that he’s changed, that the Black Moment and the Epiphany have worked and that our character has truly learned his lesson and changed.

How do we show this? There are a number of key elements you want to weave into the last section of the book – let’s say the last two – three chapters that will help you prove this.

First, we want to see that your hero/heroine is truly a NEW MAN.  (By the way, I explain character change in depth in my advanced writing book,  Deep and Wide, available through the MBT Store.)   It’s the confirmation and presentation of the changed person he/she has become, complete with new skills, new beliefs, and new courage.

This New Man moment happens right before the finale of the story.  We want to glimpse what our new man looks like.

A great example is in Independence Day – remember the black moment in the Mother Ship of the aliens, where our heroes can’t disengage and fly away after uploading the virus?  They realize that they have to sacrifice their lives, and that it’s worth it.  (Something that the scientist (Jeff Goldblum) wasn’t ready to do at the beginning of the movie).  Only THEN are they willing to shoot off the rocket, and then race for their lives out of the ship (against all odds).  But first, we see the new men….they sit down in the ship and smoke a cigar together.  This is their new man moment.  It’s brief, but it shows us who we are rooting for.

THEN….you are ready for the finale.  The TEST of the new man through the Final Battle.

The Final Battle is the section where they we test their change.  It’s the cementing that yes, the truth is RIGHT and with it they can win the day.

The Final Battle (and it’s not a real battle, just a metaphor for the concepts, just so we’re clear) has five parts:  Storming the Castle, lie, loss, reminder, victory

Step One:  Storming the Castle
I like to use the Patriot because it is an actual battle, but like I said, that is the metaphor for the ending section of a story.  See, armed with the Truth, your character will face their last challenge.  In that last challenge, they’ll come face to face with the lie, falter, and then forge ahead in victory.  So, your character must Storm the Castle.  You need to give your hero/heroine something they must do.  A proactive event that will challenge their truth.  Maybe it’s a confrontation, or a declaration or a surrender, or a challenge…whatever it might be.  It has to be something that will test their mettle.

In the Patriot, Martin’s militia is asked to fight on the line.  It’s not something the militia does (and admittedly, it’s a bit crazy.  Stand there and let the enemy shoot at you?)  But, this is their task, and Martin convinces them.

In my book Nothing But Trouble,  (the first PJ Sugar book), her black moment is when she is arrested at the end for something she didn’t do.  She wants to run. But, she has learned that maybe God made her with a curious bone and all her crazy skills are a good thing.  So, I have her go to get her nephew from where he is staying and, when she sees the potential mystery solving clue, instead of giving up, she takes a chance, digs deep into her toolkit of skills and saves the day. It’s short, but it confirms that she’s a different person.

I often figure out how they will Storm the Castle by asking:  What can’t they do at the beginning of the book that they can at the end?  For PJ, it’s keep her commitments.  For Benjamin Martin, it’s fight honorably.

Now that we have the Battle overview, and their Storm the Castle action, now we have to add some conflict.  Because only in conflict do we test/reveal the mettle of a man (or woman!)

The next thing we must do to test our character in the Final Battle is resurrect the Lie.

Step 2:  Resurrection of the LIE.

Your hero has to believe that he will lose the battle.  This is where the lie raises its almost dead head.  We see it again…and is it going to win or is our man truly a new man, armed with the truth, willing to escape/defeat the lie?

In The Patriot, as the battle ensues the line begins to falter and the militia begins to retreat.  Martin’s lie is that wars cannot be fought with honor, and clearly, when the militia begin to retreat, this is proven true.  Again, it’s fast, just a moment, but the lie has started to rise again, and it just might be confirmed.

PJ Sugar fails in her attempt to subdue the villain, and finds herself in trouble.  She’s NOT amazing, she’s just a mess. (That’s the Lie).

Right on the heels of the resurrection of the Lie is a glimpse of what they might lose.

Step 3:  Glimpse of the Loss

With the rising of the LIE, there is also the Loss of the goal.  The realization that the victory could pass out of their reach.

For example, as the line falters, Martin, meanwhile, has in his sights Tavington – the man who killed both his sons.  He is running forward to kill him when he realizes that his men are fleeing.  So, he has to make a choice – does he go after Tavington or help his men stay in the fight?

If he goes after Tavington, the lie is true, he’s only ruthless and thirsty for revenge and there is no honor in war.  If he doesn’t, he loses his chance to fight. This is his LOSS.

For PJ, if she’s killed, the villain will also hurt her nephew, who she’s sworn to protect.  She’ll lose her sister’s love and her mother’s confidence.  She really will be Nothing but Trouble.

Give us a glimpse of the loss…and then follow it quickly with a reminder of the Truth.

Step 4:  Reminder of the Truth. At the pivotal moment, the hero/heroine has to remember the Truth and what  they’ve learned.  Just like all of us right before we do something we know is wrong, and we hear the voice of Truth that stops us – the Truth stops our hero.

In the Patriot, in a very metaphorical moment, Benjamin Martin sees the flag on the ground.  Remember the flag represents honor, and it was used in the Truth/Epiphany moment early (see last week’s blogs)  And, because of that reminder, our hero chooses truth, throws down his weapon and grabs the flag.  Then he turns and calls his men back to action – choosing honor over revenge.

For PJ Sugar, although she’s failed at her first attempt knows that she knows the truth about the mystery and blurts out the plot to the killer.  He accuses her of babbling and pounces on her…but it acts as a diversion so the good guys can burst in.  She’s saved the day with her crazy, everyday skills.

This Reminder of the Truth is the key to cementing that character change, and leads us to Victory.

Step 5:  The Victory!

Then, of course we must have that Happily Ever After that gives the Hero and Heroine what they want.  In the Patriot, with the troops rallied, Benjamin Martin is free to fight Tavington, having defeated the lie and realizing he can choose honor over the bloodthirsty man he’d been.

PJ Sugar, having saved the day with her crazy skills, doesn’t have to run from her past anymore.  She a heroine in her town.


Mapping out the inner journey can be as extensive or as minimal as you want.  I like to define the Steps that I’ve just outlined and let the story and characterization take it from there.

One of the tricks that really helps me is to post the lie and the truth on my computer as I write so I know where I’m going.  Maybe you want to plot each point, and write out a long theological statement for every leg of the journey. That’s fine too — whatever helps you stay on track and ends with your hero at his destination:  The Truth that sets him free.

So, be a Book Therapist and look at your own stories.  Do you have a Final Battle?  Here are the questions to ask:

What is the Battle?
How will your character Storm the Castle?
The Lie?
The Loss?
The Reminder?
The Victory?
(Remember, in victory they get that thing they’ve always wanted)

And, if you need help with the Final Battle, head over to the Voices forum – we’re discussing Black Moments and Final Battles!

See you next week when we start discussing Hints and Secrets  of writing Suspense, that I call…The GLOW.

Happy Writing!
Susie May


The Epiphany – the grand finale of the inner journey

We’re revisiting the Black Moment today, but instead of looking at the External Black Moment, driven by the Greatest Fears, we’re going to look at the internal Black Moment…driven by the lie.

I’m just going to say it, and I’m using my Mom tone.  The Black Moment is the POINT of your story.  Because without the Black Moment, there is no epiphany and no character change, and if you are writing a romance, it is Absolutely Required.

If you don’t have a black moment in your story, then you don’t have a story.  Sorry if that hurts…BUT, we’re going to fix it, right?

Last week, we talked about Steps 1-4 of the Lie Journey, or the inner journey of the Black Moment.

As a recap:


Step 1 – Spiritual Darkness –    The Lie they believe
Step 2 – Confirmation of the Lie – Proof
Step 3 –  The Voice of Truth
Step 4 –   The realization of the Lie and the testing of the truth
Step 5:  The Black Moment

In this step, the lie rears its ugly head, and the hero is caught in the darkness.  This is RIGHT BEFORE the epiphany, and in a great inspirational story, the emotional and plot black moment can be entwined with the spiritual black moment.  This is when, after the hero (or heroine) has tried to escape on his own, he realizes he can’t – that the lie is pulling him back in.  So, he drops to his knees and lets the lie cascade over him.

You know when this is in the Patriot – it’s set up wonderfully in a previous scene, right before Gabriel’s wife dies, when Martin finally tells his son what his fears are:

When I went to war, it changed me.
And I didn’t want that to happen to

Gabriel says in essence, Don’t worry father, you taught me well.  But then his wife is killed, and what happens – -Gabriel turns into a man bent on revenge and ends up getting killed.  Martin is devastated, and he goes back to the belief that, although he’s tried to do things honorably, the sins of his past have caught up to him, in a sort of cosmic way. He has lost his children, his life – and if he can’t fight for revenge, then he’s lost his reason for fighting.
We’ve been looking at Eagle Eye and applying the Lie Journey – so in this moment, Step 5 /black moment is when Jerry reactivates the program that the Eagle Eye has initiated to kill the President.  He realizes that instead of being a hero, he will be a traitor.  The rest of the movie will be his character change/final battle sequence.

Again, the spiritual black moment is when the lie seems bigger than life, and inescapable.

Why do you need this?  Because this is when the TRUTH will come in and set them free.  (That’s the next step and we’ll get to that).

First, how do you use the LIE in the Black Moment?

Sometimes, I have the Black Moment Event and follow up with a reaction where they realize the impact of that Black Moment Event, and thus see the LIE, which is inescapable.

In a suspense, the lie can be inserted right before the Black Moment – where they see the lie and then the Black Moment confirms it (e.g. in the Patriot, the lie coming true occurs before the Black Moment event – Gabriel’s death).  Or, it could happen afterward, like in Eagle Eye, when he confirms his identity and unlocks the computer – and only then realizes what he’s done.

Likewise, the Lie might cause the black moment event.  E.g. – in True Grit, the heroien believes she will capture Tom Chaney.  She’s after all, got enough spit in her.  But her gun misfires and Tom Chaney takes her captive and is going to kill her.

If you are writing a romantic suspense, the lie can also serve to cause the breakup. For example, I might put the Lie in after the hero has hurt the heroine and they’ve “broken up” (and/or vice versa for the heroine).  Or, I might push it back to the moment when his greatest fears come true and he realizes he’s lost her for good.

Or, you could have the Black Moment Event, then the lie, then have the romantic black moment, as a result of all three.

How to decide when to use the Lie? Look at the rhythm of your story – does the lie cause the Black Moment, or does the Black Moment cause the Lie?  Taking it further and wrapping it into the romance – does the Black Moment cause the Breakup, which results in the Lie?  Or does the Lie cause the Breakup, and thus the Black Moment?

We’re going to stop for a moment and just think that through –

Let’s take a look at Return to Me:  The lie is that she stole her boyfriend’s wife’s heart and he can’t love her because of it.   Let’s look at the sequence of events:  She feels guilty about the heart (we see that in earlier scenes) so the lie is ever present.  She then sees her thank you letter on his desk.  The lie revives, she runs (her black moment), she confesses to him her pain and he walks away (the romantic black moment and confirmation of the lie) So, the lie leads to the black moment, which leads to the breakup, and the confirmation of the lie.

For him, he wonders if he can love again.  He loves her…until she leaves him and then he finds out about the heart.  It’s the romantic black moment because he wonders if he really loves Gracie, or if it is something else.  Black Moment Event leads to Lie…and the Romantic Black moment when he walks away.  Then, he realizes he misses her (the epiphany!) and has that moment where he says…I’ll always miss my wife, but I ache for Grace.  (ah!)

Going back to our subject, Suspense, let’s unwrap the ending of Eagle Eye.

The testing of the truth causes Jerry to believe that he is a hero…which leads him to activate the program…(Black Moment Event), which leads to the Lie (he will never be a hero like his brother).  Then, the heroine holds a gun on him (because the computer tells her to) and if it were a romance, this would be a great time for a breakup.  

All this Lying leads to:

Step 6 –   The Aha!  The truth that sets them free

At some point during the black moment, you need to interject some light. It’s wonderful if it is delivered in a metaphorical moment, but it’s also good via another voice of truth –

So, there’s Martin in the Patriot, after Gabriel’s death, and his fellow soldier – a friend, comes in and tries to console him.  He tells him that his losses matter to everyone, and that he has other children to fight for –

LEE says:
Nothing will replace your sons but
if you come with us you can justify
their sacrifice.

And then we have the poignant scene, where the militia and Continental army are leaving…and Martin looks like he’s turning back…and sees Gabriel’s mended flag.  And although it doesn’t have scripture at that moment, we understand that there are some causes worth fighting for, and that he can fight for honor rather than revenge.

Of course, in Eagle Eye, the hero realizes, in the words of the FBI agent tracking/helping him – “It’s up to you!”  Only Jerry can save the president…and that is just what he does at the end, risking his own life.  See, he can be a hero! (We knew it all along!)

Book Therapist Question:  What is the truth that will set YOUR hero free?

Tomorrow, I’m  going to talk about the LAST step in the journey, something I call Storming the Castle.  If you have any questions about the LIES (and the spiritual journey), hop over to Club Book Therapy Voices and join the discussion!