False Beliefs/Misunderstandings

Dragonlady

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I don't know if this is the right board for this - now my WIP has a first draft finished i'm looking to hone my skills while i read it through and i find it really hard and unnatural to write characters with false beliefs, misunderstandings, misapprehensions, jumping to wrong conclusions. I was wondering if you imaginative lot could chuck some scenarios / ideas at me for practice?
 

The Judge

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Are you thinking of putting your attempts up here for others to see, Dragonlady? And would you be happy for other members to join in with their versions so you can see how they work on the same ideas? If so, then this is indeed the right place for the thread.

If, though, you'd prefer to keep your attempts private, and you just want the prompts, then the thread would be best in Writing Discussion. I can move it over there for you if you let me know.

Meanwhile, how about writing someone who thinks his neighbour is a spy?
 

Dragonlady

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Posting the results here would be a good incentive to get writing and see what other people do, so why not! Thanks for the first idea!
 

Phyrebrat

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Have you familiarised yourself with the unreliable narrator trope? They’re a great way to mess with the reader.

False beliefs create a tension. If you have a problem with that, write a scene with more than the person who’s got the false beliefs.

Farce - and people like Alan Ayckbourn use misunderstanding a lot.
 

The Big Peat

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Playing off that idea - how about writing a scene where a character is lying to another character and being believed, then write the scene from the character who's falsely believing something?
 

Swank

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Is the problem that it is difficult to imagine being, shall we say, stupid? To most of the people on this writing site, being fairly smart, the somewhat muddled thinking of people who easily come to believe false conspiracies and the like is hard to imagine. It often seems like willful defiance of reality rather than a misunderstanding. And that's hard simulate in your mind or emulate emotionally. How does an author write those people realistically when their behavior is essentially unbelievable? Hard to do, unless they are depicted as villains.

Another sort of misunderstanding that can happen, and is easier to empathize with, is a genuine misunderstanding due to incomplete communication, third party interference or understandable but incorrect assumptions. This can be difficult to write, mainly because it involves some planning to make it seem reasonable. It is almost like a complex caper, but based on people being the opposite of clever.


Either way, the challenge is a lot like playing yourself at chess - you know all the moves, but you have to wall off the internal understanding of one character from another, even though you are omniscient and can see the truth. Again, easier said than done.


But the way forward is probably to post an excerpt or scenario and workshop it. I'm just guessing the avenues that the OP is going down, and may be way off base.


One small suggestion is to use habitual past bad behavior to 'fool' another character into assuming that more of the same is happening, when the unreliable character is actually being truthful or correct.
 

AnRoinnUltra

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characters with false beliefs, misunderstandings, misapprehensions, jumping to wrong conclusions
I think there's a lot of material for that in real life, you could pick one 'controversial' belief and have two folk throw it about. Below's an unasked for interaction between two of the ones in my book. What I did was pick a genuinely held belief from real life, and twisted it so the protagonists could get confussed -there's plenty of stuff out there to mess with (diet might be a good sample topic to have fun with ...always eat a large bowl of hobobble berries in the morning, or wait no, they're poisonous I think) -best of luck.

‘You see, Hybobolus himself vibrated at the same frequency as interdimensional beings’
‘he did what?’
‘he vibrated -his body became a receiver for their insights, it’s one of the only times they’ve contacted humans directly’
‘That’s like when Barry Davey picked up 2FM at the strawberry fair
‘How d’ya mean Faf?’
Ah, his brain just started picking up radio broadcasts’
‘Really?, are ya sure?’
‘Oh yeah. You shoulda been there, you would’ve loved it, he started channeling Larry Gogans quiz and everything. At first we all thought he was messing, but then we turned on the radio and sure enough it was exactly the same’
 

Mon0Zer0

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I've recently been rewatching Breaking Bad and one thing that jumped out at me is how great the show's writers handle misunderstandings. Everyone in a scene will have their own perspective driven by their idea of status relationships, past experiences, their own concerns and so on. These then lead to people talking past each other, trying to guess each other's motives, to dominate or manipulate one another; they deceive in order to prevent the other party realising something or to make themselves look better.

Take the following scene:


[spoilers for breaking bad beyond this point]

In this scene, Ted Beneke is the boss of a family business engaged in fabrication. Skyler is an ex-employee who was forced to return to work as an accountant when her husband fell sick with cancer. At work she had an affair with Ted when she felt her husband was keeping secrets from her. It turned out that Ted was cooking the books of his business to keep it afloat and Skyler knowingly signed off on the accounts. The IRS have requested he pay owed taxes of $600,000 or face an audit which will reveal the extent of his fraud. Ted is refusing to pay the taxes thinking he will only get off with a fine.

However Skyler, since leaving the company has reconciled, to a degree with her husband after she finds out that he has been cooking Meth. In order to use the proceeds from his criminal activities she has been laundering it through her company. After discovering that he owes a tax bill, and that an audit will likely turn their attention to her financial affairs and reveal the money laundering she arranges to get the money to Ted so he can pay the tax bill by arranging for the crooked lawyer Saul Goodman to pass the money to him pretending it is an inheritance from a long lost relative.

Skyler's motivation in the scene is to get Ted to pay the bill so her money laundering operation is left uncovered. She has to deceive Ted because money laundering is illegal and morally unacceptable. The lie is that the money came from illicit gambling winnings - illegal but not socially unacceptable.

Ted is unaware of Skyler's motives and the only way he can interpret her is to attribute her motives to either her sex (he patronises her), her love for him or just assuming she is a worry-wart. At the same time he tries to assert his status - assuming the moral high ground, lecturing her about the immorality of accepting money. His masculinity is threatened by the idea of taking money from a woman. At the same time he is trying to impress her - "I'm the good guy." His own motives are connected to his sense of self importance, self absorption and servicing his desires.

Skyler has to overstress how the fraud could lead to them being imprisoned, but Ted doesn't take it seriously. He rationalises his own illegal activity saying that it was for good motives - to protect other people, although he demonstrates absolutely no concern for the effect an audit would have on Skyler. When questioned about why the cheque isn't for the full amount it turns out that he spent some of it on a new luxury car putting the lie to his claims of cooking the books to save the company.

So in this scene we have characters that are engaged in:

* Lies and Deception including
* Self deception and
* Hypocrisy
* Trying to control how other people see them
* Asserting their status
* Manipulation
* Pursuing their own motivations
* revealing their own hidden attitudes (i.e. Ted's sexism)

Breaking bad is a real masterclass in these kinds of conversations. There's another scene which I can't quite remember what happens but it revolves around two characters having a conversation where one thinks the other is threatening them, when they aren't. Just loads of great dialogue / character scenes.
 

AnRoinnUltra

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Am wondering if there is some kind of game we could run here -a local writer showed me a story (unpublished, so can't link) where the protagonist avoids gossip at all costs and ends up discussing funeral arrangements with an undertaker while trying to keep the fact that her husband died quiet. Could we pick a topic and take turns adding dialogue that deliberately or accidentally avoids something? Maybe a book club where somebody read a book and hated it but doesn't want to let on to the others who loved it? ...sorry, can't think of anything cool.
 

Mon0Zer0

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Could we pick a topic and take turns adding dialogue that deliberately or accidentally avoids something?

You could have a scene exercise with one or more characters. For each character you ask the following questions (adapted from David Mamet):

1. What do they need?
2. What happens if they don't get it?
3. Why now?

Have the character or characters try and get what they need but something is preventing them. Think of obstacles that could stop them. In a scene with misunderstandings another person could be an obstacle.

Or - you could write a scene where one person has a secret and is afraid of being found out. Or where one person wants something from someone else but can't just ask them outright.
 

AnRoinnUltra

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Good stuff, the last two options seem the easiest to do as a quick exercise -will try start a thread later (y)
 

Dragonlady

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Thanks for all the ideas, loads of things here to practise! @Swank my anxiety is triggered by the idea of getting things wrong or breaking rules, to the extent that I can't watch a lot of comedy programmes that involve a character who has a misapprehension which culminates in their getting embarrased. I find them toe curlingly uncomfortable, which means I don't find misapprehensions easy or natural to write. @Phyrebrat I think an unreliable narrator would be a real challenge to write.
 

Dragonlady

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@The Judge I had a go at writing your scenario, it was quite challenging to not focus on what was really going on, and keep it up for this short time, and having a brief go at the protagonist acting on their mistaken beliefs.

I slowed down, lawn mower coming to a stop, hands still compressing the handles so it continued to whirr and attempt to mow the same bit of grass. There she was again, stood in front of her house, talking into that device, looking down the street. Glancing at me. Come on, don’t stand and stare! She’ll think it’s suspicious! She’ll report on me!
I continued on my course round the garden, up, down, up, down, thinking of when I’d first met her, how I couldn’t place her accent, and how she hadn’t known where to rest her eyes. I’ve hardly ever heard her speak, I’m sure she doesn’t want me to work out where she’s from. How could a part time bar worker afford so much expensive tech anyway? She always seems to have a different gadget.
I empty the lawn mower’s tray into the compost, put it away in the shed and head back inside. Time for a cup of tea. I gaze out the window while waiting for the kettle to boil. She’s stopped talking now and she’s staring at Mr Jones’s house. Are those binoculars? How does she even know he works for the government?
Blast it - I’ve forgotten to take the bin out. I pour the water over my teabag and head back out to the garden, pulling the wheelie bin down the path, and nearly trip over her, sitting on her pavement peering up my house with her phone in front of her face.
‘What are you doing with that?’ I snap, and she scurries back to her house. Doesn’t want me to catch her in the act of recording us, no doubt. Hmph.
 

Phyrebrat

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Thanks for all the ideas, loads of things here to practise! @Swank my anxiety is triggered by the idea of getting things wrong or breaking rules, to the extent that I can't watch a lot of comedy programmes that involve a character who has a misapprehension which culminates in their getting embarrased. I find them toe curlingly uncomfortable, which means I don't find misapprehensions easy or natural to write. @Phyrebrat I think an unreliable narrator would be a real challenge to write.

Nooooo! One of the best things with an unreliable narrator is if you contradict yourself you’ve always got the excuse of telling (The Judge, most likely ;) ) ‘but yeah that’s what the character thought’ :D
 

Swank

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Thanks for all the ideas, loads of things here to practise! @Swank my anxiety is triggered by the idea of getting things wrong or breaking rules, to the extent that I can't watch a lot of comedy programmes that involve a character who has a misapprehension which culminates in their getting embarrased. I find them toe curlingly uncomfortable, which means I don't find misapprehensions easy or natural to write. @Phyrebrat I think an unreliable narrator would be a real challenge to write.
I feel similarly. Is there any necessity for you to write such situations?
 

Dragonlady

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I feel similarly. Is there any necessity for you to write such situations?
they do make murder mysteries much easier, for example. My characters tend to just agree with each other and be nice to each other and work things out too quickly. Even romances, another thing i'm trying to write to some extent, hinge around mistakes and misunderstandings a lot of the time
 

Swank

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they do make murder mysteries much easier, for example. My characters tend to just agree with each other and be nice to each other and work things out too quickly. Even romances, another thing i'm trying to write to some extent, hinge around mistakes and misunderstandings a lot of the time
You might consider handling some of those issues 'off line' by describing the past misunderstanding instead of illustrating it with dialogue.
 

Toby Frost

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I'm not sure I understand the question. Surely a character is either acting sincerely or insincerely, and that's the real difference. A character who worships an imaginary god is operating under a false belief, but they're sincere about it. Likewise a character who incorrectly believes that his best friend is trying to kill him. In those situations, they'll act as if the basis of their belief is correct, although it isn't. However, a character who is pretending to be a prophet in order to deceive his followers is acting insincerely, and so his thoughts will reflect that.

Or am I misunderstanding this?
 

Bagpuss

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i find it really hard and unnatural to write characters with false beliefs, misunderstandings, misapprehensions,

Why are your character's beliefs false? If your characters believe that what they are doing is right, and that everyone else is wrong, then how hard is it to write that reality for your characters?
 

Dragonlady

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You might consider handling some of those issues 'off line' by describing the past misunderstanding instead of illustrating it with dialogue.
i don't even need to do that, they just need to behave according to it. The detective chases the red herring, the young woman overlooks his faults and gets involved too quickly.
Why are your character's beliefs false? If your characters believe that what they are doing is right, and that everyone else is wrong, then how hard is it to write that reality for your characters?
because conflict often involves misapprehensions, which I find really hard to write. The conclusion comes too quickly, things are too smooth.
 

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