Friday, April 26, 2019

How Your Character's False Belief Weaves through a Storyboard--Creating the Narrative Arc

Character in fiction and memoir is built on the convoluted pathways of false belief. As readers, we witness the journey along these pathways: the unconsciousness of a character at the start of the book, the changes as they grow more aware, shedding their limited views of self and life.  It makes for a great structural model for story, both memoir and fiction, and this week I want to share how that false belief pathway is built, using the W storyboard.  

I began working with the concept of false belief, or false agreement, about eight years ago when I wanted to understand how my characters could show this growth.  If they started out unconscious, maybe victim to their limits, you could almost say they have a certain agreement with the status quo.  They follow certain ideas, beliefs, creeds, to get along. A story starts when that status quo begins to break up. That's the triggering event or inciting incident. (This video explains more.)

False beliefs, I also noticed, were often built on a serious event that happened earlier in the character's life.  A wounding event. (More about that here.)

But how does a writer plant this through their story?  You can't just reveal everything about the character's interior right at the beginning--that delivers zero tension.  How might the reveal be broken into smaller steps, planted through the W storyboard?

Authors of my favorite memoirs and novels did this.  We readers would get hints of the character's interior disability early on, but not know the whole reason for it until later.

Fast forward a couple more years.  Experiments with my own books--and short stories--gave me these five steps, which can be your writing exercise this week.

Triggering event (start of book):  The event that opens your story must hint at the character's false belief about life.  Example:  Character believes she has to do it all herself so she doesn't ask for help when she runs from the crime scene.  False belief is alive and well.

Point 2 on W (first turning point, about 100 pages in):  This is called the "I can't take it anymore point" and it reflects the character's firm decision to change things.  Things have gotten worse for the character since she fled; she's trapped now and has to get help, even if it goes against everything she believes.  False belief is being challenged but not yet released.

Point 3 on W (second triggering event, about 150 pages in): After help lifts the character free from the trapped place of point 2, after she gains some skills or strength to determine her next steps, the midbook offers another major upheaval that causes more problems.  Character has an accident and must figure out a new way to keep going ("If only I could XX, then I'd be able to XX"). False belief is renegotiated, similar to the bargaining stage of grief. Not released or even looked at fully yet, just reworked into a new form.

Point 4 on W (second turning point, about 250 pages in):  Often called the "All is lost" moment, the tone of point 4 is the ultimate betrayal. Character finds out the helper from point 2 is actually her enemy.  None of her methods and beliefs have worked. She has to let them go now and reinvent herself, not the belief. False belief is faced and released. 

Point 5 on W (ending, about 300-350 pages in): We see a new person in our character now.  She has reinvented herself as she shed the false belief at point 4.  New belief, not false, is operating now.

To test this theory, I began reading for it. Many, many books that fit this structure also show the evolution of the false belief.  It's invisible to the reader, generally, but the writer with keen eyes can see--and learn from it.

To read more check out these links.

False agreement blog posts

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