As promised, today we’re looking at how I develop characters. A technique I learned from award-winning author and mentor, Susan May Warren, is to ask what is the lie my hero or heroine believes.
Often the lie is something from his past that changed the way he looks at himself or relationships or the world around him. More than that, it changed his approach to those things.
By uncovering the lie he believes, I can frame a story that will reveal the truth that will set him free.
If the hero (or heroine) believes a lie that resonates with readers, the unfolding of the truth to the hero has the potential to minister to the reader as well. This was my own experience when I began reading Christian fiction, and something I hope my readers will experience.
In Deep Cover, the lie the hero believes is that he alone can, and must, stop the bad guys. So as not to spoil the story for those who haven’t read it, I won’t detail how this plays out in the story.
Instead, let’s brainstorm some ideas for the story concept we talked about last Wednesday.
Let’s go with a fireman hero who was badly burned trying to save the villain’s wife. Perhaps, he hasn’t yet returned to active duty. Perhaps, he blames himself for the woman’s death. Perhaps, he feels he made a poor judgment call in the middle of the rescue.
Your turn: What lie might our hero believe? And/or… have you read a book in which the truth the hero or heroine learned really resonated with you?
I love this technique. Hadn’t heard of it before, but it makes total sense. I could see the moral premise coming out of this easily.
In many novels I read I see the lie as being the hero or heroine believing they’re not worthy of something in particular–often love, a lasting relationship, since I read a lot of romances. They believe this so strongly that they don’t get the point that no one is worthy, but grace overrules that.
You know — one of the greatest joys in reading Christian fiction is that ministering you talked about. I never thought about it in that way. But I’m always touched by the truths characters discover in fiction. So much so that I’ve started a journal where I pull out a scripture and concept from each book I read and just let my feelings flow on paper about how they apply to my own life. It’s a nifty way to do a scripture study!!!!
Okay you asked : What lie might the fireman hero believe?
Maybe that he’s not good enough. Maybe his whole life his father has been really hard on him and he always felt he couldn’t measure up. Those feelings have carried forward into his adult life. His father might be adamantly opposed to his son being a fireman. Maybe just before the fire he’d had another blow up with his father and was told he didn’t have what it takes to be a fire fighter and when he fell flat on his face his father wasn’t going to come to his rescue.
That argument pushed all the buttons from his childhood. Maybe even distracted him during the fire. Maybe there was a second of hesitation when he entered the building based on remembering what his father said. So, afterwards, he blames himself and begins to go down that slippery slope of believing the negative things others say about you.
The scripture connection could be Phil…oh 4 something…about being strengthened in Christ. And the truth the hero could learn is that we are all lacking but Christ has the power to lift us up and make us stronger than we ever thought we could be. The strength could equate to emotional as well as spirital. This guy needs to let go of past hurts and see himself as the child of God he is…ohhh…see himself in the eyes of the heroine.
Okay that was total brainstorming and I don’t know if it makes sense but I have an appointment with a rose garden so I’ve gotta dash before the rain comes.
This is great for me since I’m daydreaming up some characters for a new story.
But this plotting ahead kills me! I need to keep the lie in mind even though I don’t know what it is until I start writing.
I like Kav’s brainstorm. That would make sense, and when the victim dies, the fireman sees that as final proof that his father was right. Hmmm.
Yes, Eileen, I agree that’s a common lie heroes or heroines believe.
Kav, keeping a journal about character truths is such a great idea, and a rich resource.
I really like your idea for our hero, too. As soon as, I start thinking about such all-consuming lies as this, my mind immediately catapults to what strength can he have to counterbalance the oppressive emotions he’d feel because of his failure to save the woman. Something the heroine and reader will admire in him. This would tie in to his noble cause, which we haven’t brainstormed yet. LOL
Jessica, I love brainstorming…as you can tell. I hope we’ve sparked some ideas for your own characters.
I’ve been gone all day with doctor appointments and right now my brain is baked. It’s 112 degrees here. Almost blistered my fingers opening the car door earlier.
Maybe I’ll pop back in later.
Okay, I’ve had a little time to cool off and a thought came to me as I re-read Kay’s post. And . . . the ‘living up to father’s expectations’ is, to me anyway, overdone. Cliche.
So, here’s a bit of a twist. Make it our hero’s mother. She’s extremely over-protective of him, always has been. Because of that he was unmercifully teased growing up as being a “mama’s boy” and he had many fights to prove otherwise. She also wanted him to be a doctor, her way of “protecting” him. A nice, safe profession. Besides, doctors make a lot of money.
So, naturally, our hero chooses one of the most dangerous occupations he can think of just to “show her!”
But he does love his mother and as he battles fire after fire he thinks of her constant fear for his life. Perhaps he received a phone call or a letter from his mother just before this last fire and he’s not quite “with it” . . . his mind is distracted by something she said, resulting in a mistake during his attempted rescue of the villain’s wife.
Still thinking on it. What do you say?
112 degrees! Peggy, how do you survive it?
I like your idea. It gives him more of a backbone, bad boy kind of contrariness that he rebelled by going into firefighting instead of medical school. So that could double the guilty feelings surrounding the woman’s death as he thinks of how he let his mom push his buttons before the fire and it made him do something reckless to save the victim instead of following protocol.
Yeah, that’s good! 🙂
Isn’t it interesting how we could each write a completely different story with essentially the same suspense plot, just by changing up the character arcs of the hero and heroine?
You’re so right, Sandra. And thinking about that, it gives a lie to the belief that “there’s nothing new” – while that may be true, basically, there are so many ways to twist and change just a few things to come up with a whole new story.
So, are we going to name our hero yet?
Oh, good question. Hmm. I’m going to sleep on that, but the name that immediately popped into my head (which surprises me because it’s not a name I hear often) is Jack. It seems to suit a fireman.
Believe it or not, I think it’s perfect!
Jack it is, then 🙂
Love the ideas posted here. This gives me a lot of food for thought in my own writing.
I think God planted a “crazy” gene in people that become firefighters–what IS it that makes them rush into burning buildings?!?! Of the people I know who are firefighters, the overriding theme seems to be the adrenaline rush and the drive to help people. Most of them can’t even give you a solid reason for doing what they do. So, “The truth will set you free” is a fitting theme. Truth makes us passionate, and passion for their mission is what keeps firefighters going. Believing untruths (“I am not good enough” “I messed up” “I should have been able to SAVE her”) drains them. Burnout does happen. Maybe Jack has been in the job for 20 years and has found himself having a hard time going to work. Younger guys make fun of him because he is having a hard time keeping up with them physically. Maybe he’s had lung damage from smoke inhalation because in one instance he forgot to wear protective gear–but he refuses to recognize that maybe it’s time to find something else. Maybe God has another plan of work for him.
Sorry I’m so windy. Must be that “Kansas” thing cropping up in me!
I like your mama idea, Peggy. And then you could bring in a more conflict between the hero and heroine if she happened to be a pretty opinionated, take-control kind of woman. He’d over-react because of his relationship with his mother, don’t you think?
Hi Shauna, thanks so much for joining in. I love your comments about fireman’s personalities/motives. Very interesting. If we have him get injured in the fire, his buddies might raz him about getting old. Up in Canada, most stick it out long enough to collect their pension. And I get the impression they’d be very supportive of each other, but in jest, I could definitely see them giving him a hard time.
And Kav, I love your idea of having the heroine’s opinionatedness remind him of Mom. Poor ___…we need to name her!
Oh, I like that extra bit about the heroine’s being a strong personality, and the ‘too much like Mom’ thing. GREAT conflict.
So, how about our girl’s name. Like Sandra last night with Jack’s name, Ellen just popped into my head. What do you think?
Another thought as I read Sandra’s last comment about Jack’s fellow firefighters jokingly giving him a hard time. Because of his growing-up years and being teased about being “mama’s boy” Jack reacts the same way he did then, only not with his fists. The more they josh him, the more determined he is to fight is INNER CONFLICT about quitting. Piled on top of his guilt about not saving the woman from the fire.
I like your idea of his determination rearing its head when his fellow firefighters raz him, contrasting with beginning to think his Mom was right and he should quit. Then if the heroine, rather offhandedly remarks have you ever thought of quitting, it could really irritate him, without her coming off as pushy.
As for a name…the Ellens I know don’t quite suit the character I’m envisioning. Teachers must have a terrible time picking names for the their children, because so many would be associated with the little terrors in their class. LOL. I actually like Peggy. 🙂
Peggy, huh? 🙂 You really don’t come across Peggy in books, ever noticed that? And for most of my entire life, I’ve only known a handful of Peggys. Could work. 🙂
Maybe we need to develop her a little more although I’d be tickled to be a book character–even if in name only. LOL
That’s exactly what I was thinking. It’s not that common a name. I like it 🙂 We’ll work on her next week!
Now I have got to work on my revisions. 🙂
So before we work on Peggy, can we give Jack a dog? (And can Jack have brown eyes? And I dare anyone to describe those gorgeous eyes without using the word chocolate!)
Anyway. I think Jack needs a dog. The poor guy has it rough all round and he needs the uncondional love of a mutt. Not a Dalmation — that would be too predictable. Maybe an Australian Shepherd mix — blind in one eye, singed around the edges. Jack could have rescued him from a warehouse fire and nursed the dog back to health. Now it’s d-e-v-o-t-e-d. The dog hangs on Jack’s every word, which is good because Jack uses him as a sounding board. And his mother things the dog is a flea-infested cur. The dog doesn’t take to many people — he’s pretty single-minded about his humans — but adores our Peggy. Wouldn’t that confuse poor Jack?
Oh I love it, Kav. Yes, Jack should definitely have a dog just as you describe. And he will absolutely adore our Peggy! And because this is a suspense and we have to get Peggy in danger, he can also help come to her rescue!
I love it, Kav! You’re right about the brown eyes. How about chocolate caramel? LOL
Love the devoted-ratty-dog-rescued-from-a-fire! That’s sheer genius! And by all means have the dog adore Peggy, and of course she returns the love. That would mean something to me since I’m so terribly allergic to most dogs. 🙂
And, of course, Peggy’s already in danger from the villain who is seeking to do harm to Jack. We’ll have to develop that along with fleshing out Peggy next week.
I’m having a blast with this!
That’s too funny. Even as I wrote my last comment, I was thinking “what if Peggy’s not a dog person?” ie. you, not our heroine!
I’m stumped on a description for brown eyes. But wait until tomorrow Kav, you’re going on the hot seat. Hee, hee!
Ah, but I love dogs! Even when we knew of my allergies when I was 18 months old, our family always had dogs. Most of them black Labs, all of them named Susie. I refused to stay away from them. As an adult, of course, I’ve learned which dogs I can tolerate . . . those with no dander.
When I stayed 2-1/2 weeks with my sister just before she passed away, my niece was there with her dog, a CavaPoo (cavalier spaniel-poodle) and I could love on her and had no problems! I used to have a Lhasa Apso, also non-allergenic.
So, our Peggy loves dogs! LOLK
Wonderful! My pup is shedding like crazy at the moment. A hypoallergenic dog sounds heavenly. 🙂
Super way to tackle a character and their journey from the beginning of the book to the end. I do the same thing, but never quite manage to say it as eloquently as you! Thanks for sharing. 🙂