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The lies we tell ourselves (are your plot’s secret weapon) 

 May 8, 2023

By  Sue Brown-Moore

We all tell ourselves lies. And sometimes we don't even realize we're doing it. Our self-lies often present as low self-esteem, and they're almost always grounded in a fear. 

And as writers of character-driven fiction, we can flip this negative habit from our human lives into an inspiring experience for our readers.

In today's article, I'm sharing a lesson from my course Liar, Liar, Plot on Fire to show you how the Lie your hero tells themself can help you uncover the very heart of their story

In the course, I teach a 5-question Plot Diagnosis technique for discovering critical flaws in your manuscript before you spend time and money on critique reads or developmental edits. The lesson preview below focuses on the first question in that flowchart: What Lie does your hero tell themself?

Plot Diagnosis Question #1

What is the Lie?

If you're familiar with manifestation, the Lie core value in your hero's story is a negative manifestation.

Manifestation is a psychological phenomenon that happens when you convince yourself something is true by stating it, focusing on it, or revisiting it until it becomes reality.

Positive manifestations can motivate you to stay on track toward challenging goals or bolster your courage to take on a scary task. 

But negative manifestations are where we really sabotage our own happiness.

As humans, we're hardwired to weigh negative thoughts over positive ones. This negativity bias is so powerful that we need something like 5 positive experiences to balance out what we perceive to be a negative one

If you tell yourself you're not good enough, you'll begin to believe it. Even if you only said it in jest the first time, that statement is essentially a self-harming affirmation that gains power every time you repeat it.

This is why the Lie is such an important part of your hero's transformation journey.   

The Lie is a Character Core Value

Core Values are the most important character elements in a story that define why that story is worth telling, how the character will react at various points in their growth journey, and where key scenes of the plot anchor the hero's transformation arc.

Here's the full chart of all 7 Core Values and how they loosely relate to one another.

Lie comes from Root Fear. This is the full Core Value chart.

Any character-driven fiction story that ends in positive growth for the protagonist must begin the story with a relatable, believable flaw for the hero. The reader connects to the story through their sympathy with, understanding of, or personal experience with the Lie our hero tells themself.

That Lie is powerful because the hero honestly believes it is true and makes major decisions in their life based on that belief

The LIE is a false truth the hero convinces themself is true.

But because the Lie is based in emotion, not on a measurable fact, the hero just needs a nudge (or two... or ten) to start doubting their own belief. You, as the writer, need to set up scenes that allow your protagonist to experience proof that they've bought into a lie.

  • I'm too ugly to be on camera.
  • I'm unlovable.
  • I will never win.
  • I'm a terrible painter.

So this is what your story must do:

  1. 1
    Establish what Lie the hero believes
  2. 2
    Share what experience in the hero's past led them to believe this Lie
  3. 3
    Then show personal, irrefutable proof that disproves the Lie for the hero

Believing the Lie gives the hero permission to avoid the possibility of facing their deepest fear. 

#3 above usually happens in the middle part of your story's plot, where you begin setting up scenarios and experiences that disprove the Lie in ways the hero cannot ignore. This, along with the story beats of your specific fiction genre (or subgenre) is what defines Phase 3 of the transformation journey, Considering Change.   

So when you're considering what Lie your hero believes that shapes the way they make important decisions in your story's plot, keep these points in mind...

  • The Lie can be an exaggeration of a fact, or it can be a complete fabrication.
  • The Lie is always based in a negative emotion, like fear, anger, or despair.
  • Believing the Lie gives the character permission to avoid the possibility of facing their Root Fear.

Want to learn more about the 5-Question Plot Diagnosis Flowchart? Check out my self-paced online course Liar, Liar, Plot on Fire.

Questions? Comments? Let me know below! I'd love to hear what resonated for you in this article or if you have any questions about my course Liar, Liar, Plot on Fire!


About the author 

Sue Brown-Moore

Creator. Speaker. Feminist. Human. (She/her)

Known for being a tough editor with a soft touch, Sue Brown-Moore specializes in teaching revision techniques for character-driven fiction and champions progressive, inclusive literature. Sue helps writers rediscover their inner spark and push through vexing story problems using the character-first editing and storystorming techniques she teaches in her online university.

Sue has been featured in writing-focused events and publications, like Publisher’s Weekly and online writing summits, and the stories she collaborates on as both a freelance and acquiring editor have been celebrated with nominations and wins for industry awards like the Vivian, the Golden Heart, and the Lambda.

Learn more about learning from Sue and choose the confidence-building workshop, playbook, or bite-sized training that’s right for you, here on Sue's website.

You only get one chance to make a memorable first impression, so make it count!

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