Does a character really need a lie?

Bramandin

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I know that my problem is probably that I'm overthinking it and I should just stop dickering around and write. Now I'm hung up on a concept that a character has to believe in a lie that contradicts the message of the story. They are unhappy and think the lie will make them happy, but really the lie is making them unhappy. I have seen it subverted. "I didn't learn anythin'! Ha! I was right all along!" — Applejack I'm also still lacking a theme, but those happen organically.

All four of the young Guardians aren't exactly pleased about being Guardians, but none of them have any plans to shirk their duty like some Disney princess. For everyone but Grigori, there's really no struggle to accept it. Grigori's lie is easy in that his parents aren't alone in thinking that necromancy is bad magic, but he doesn't see any escape from being The Necromancer. His journey might include realizing that he's not obligated to use his sorcery, but I also need to think of something beneficial for him to use it for beyond fixing harm that others have caused with that sort of magic.

Tanyanika believes that science-caste morals are the best and she's only wrong if you take best to mean perfect. She's already adjusted her thinking about not questioning them. Her moral degradation is more about lowering her standards so she's no longer doing wrong when she behaves the same way that she was when breaking rules that were too restrictive. She also believes that falling in love is dangerous because one of her predecessors corrupted the entire Circle of Guardians with madness after his lover was murdered, but she also believes that he suffered from flaws that she doesn't have and it might be okay. This post will get long if I paste in the chapter, but here's a discussion about it. Her want in childhood was to meet Sarah, who was the Guardian of the Pillar before her, but she has that now.

Birney's lie is that he thinks that Sarah is plotting against his father, but I'm tying that off pretty early. Jahangir hasn't had much page-time and I'm still working out if I'm going to do anything with him.
 

The Big Peat

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No. I mean, it can be a great idea - check out Will Storr's book on storytelling for a big advocate of this sort of central flawed vision of the world and self - but it doesn't have to be there. Course it doesn't.

Also...

"I know that my problem is probably that I'm overthinking it and I should just stop dickering around and write."

You said it fella.
 

Wayne Mack

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No, there is no need for every character to believe a lie. There are multiple possible beliefs that characters may have. A character may be the only one to know the truth. A character may be working to uncover the truth. A character may lack a strong belief. A character may be deceived. Lastly, a character may be committed to a false belief and have a major revelation.

To me, it sounds like you have already determined your characters' underlying beliefs and you are now trying to fit them into someone else's model. If you, as a writer, understand the key aspects of a character, there is no need to go through these types of models; they are useful in helping the discovery of the characters.

I think you know enough about how you want your characters to behave to put them into action. Go ahead and get something written; once written, it can always be corrected. Go for it.
 

Bramandin

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No, there is no need for every character to believe a lie. There are multiple possible beliefs that characters may have. A character may be the only one to know the truth. A character may be working to uncover the truth. A character may lack a strong belief. A character may be deceived. Lastly, a character may be committed to a false belief and have a major revelation.

To me, it sounds like you have already determined your characters' underlying beliefs and you are now trying to fit them into someone else's model. If you, as a writer, understand the key aspects of a character, there is no need to go through these types of models; they are useful in helping the discovery of the characters.

I think you know enough about how you want your characters to behave to put them into action. Go ahead and get something written; once written, it can always be corrected. Go for it.

I think you're at the heart of it. I do want to improve, but there is no right or wrong, just formulas that tend to work and stories that don't work because they hit too many obvious problems. I don't know much about Twilight, but it was wildly successful despite the main character seeming sueish from a description I encountered recently. Her dream is to find love worth sacrificing herself for and her flaw is clumsiness. :p

Somehow I've made myself afraid of writing when I knew that my problem with drawing is that I don't embrace the possibility of making bad art. (There are some other issues like how actually looking at anything but a screen makes me freak out due to hoarding, so drawing from life is out.) I've made some stupid false-starts on this section of story, but it's okay to have a few more. I could even say "this thing collapsed under its own weight" and move onto the next project.

It is useful to know that it's alright for the character to lack a strong personal belief. Sure a lot of them have cultural values, but they're also aware of alternatives and nothing runs deep. I should probably proceed the way I have been where stuff happens and I find the plot later. Looking up plot-structure, there is a introductory period before the inciting incident, I just don't have to follow the rule of Disney movies where it gets rolling at the five-minute mark.
 

JS Wiig

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A lie? Perhaps not, but internal conflict usually makes for better drama.
 

Swank

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Cultural conflicts don't have to be about one being wrong. No sex before marriage (for instance) isn't right or wrong - it's a moral perspective that isn't harmful or harmless. People rejecting that social more don't become enlightened in the process. But clearly it is a big deal to some people.
 

Bramandin

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Cultural conflicts don't have to be about one being wrong. No sex before marriage (for instance) isn't right or wrong - it's a moral perspective that isn't harmful or harmless. People rejecting that social more don't become enlightened in the process. But clearly it is a big deal to some people.

Oh definitely. I'm having trouble articulating this, but right or wrong is a cultural judgement and not an absolute.

A lie? Perhaps not, but internal conflict usually makes for better drama.

That's probably a better way of putting it. I guess the concern is more if I really need for them to have internal conflicts. Though there are plenty of conflicts where it is all external. The bad guy is trying to do something harmful and the hero doesn't wrestle with the question of whether or not to stop him.
 

JS Wiig

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You don’t need to have anything in a story, but some things sometimes make for better stories. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

There’s only one way to find out.
 

The Big Peat

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That's probably a better way of putting it. I guess the concern is more if I really need for them to have internal conflicts. Though there are plenty of conflicts where it is all external. The bad guy is trying to do something harmful and the hero doesn't wrestle with the question of whether or not to stop him.

While I know I said you don't need a lie - or an internal conflict, or a sacred flaw, or whatever - it does cut down your options on how you can make your story awesome.

And while there are lots of stories where the choice of whether to fight the bay guy is simpler than 1+1=2, there are very few stories where at least one of the MCs doesn't have an internal conflict. The internal conflict might be part of a subplot, or about how best to fight the bad guy, or how far they're willing to go... but there's usually something.

And I think you either have to be very good, or telling a very particular type of story to not do this.
 

Bramandin

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While I know I said you don't need a lie - or an internal conflict, or a sacred flaw, or whatever - it does cut down your options on how you can make your story awesome.

And while there are lots of stories where the choice of whether to fight the bay guy is simpler than 1+1=2, there are very few stories where at least one of the MCs doesn't have an internal conflict. The internal conflict might be part of a subplot, or about how best to fight the bad guy, or how far they're willing to go... but there's usually something.

And I think you either have to be very good, or telling a very particular type of story to not do this.

Perhaps their internal conflicts don't need to be so big? Like I have an idea where one character yells at another for trying to hand a third character a comic book. Superhero stories are considered a bad influence, but Sandman is okay because it's just a story with superheros in it. Another character briefly wrestles with the question of whether he'd rather go hungry or eat SPAM. The decision of what do when when a character yells "run, I'll hold off the demon!" shouldn't go on for more than a paragraph or so.

There’s only one way to find out.

That's well-put.
 

The Big Peat

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Perhaps their internal conflicts don't need to be so big? Like I have an idea where one character yells at another for trying to hand a third character a comic book. Superhero stories are considered a bad influence, but Sandman is okay because it's just a story with superheros in it. Another character briefly wrestles with the question of whether he'd rather go hungry or eat SPAM. The decision of what do when when a character yells "run, I'll hold off the demon!" shouldn't go on for more than a paragraph or so.

I wouldn't consider any of those an internal conflict in the way we're talking about them. That's an intra character squabble, a brief internal character moment, and an as you say paragraph long struggle with a tactical decision. A major internal conflict is Dany struggling over whether to rule with kindness or with fear; a good short term example is Jon Snow trying to decide whether to take Winterfell for Stannis or keep his Night Watch oaths (which ties neatly into his long term thing of can he be an honourable as Ned).

Or Grigori struggling with whether it's right and ethical to be a necromancer. That's a good one, although it'd need to be more specific

(i.e. This is for a Task rather than an Internal Conflict but "Get his parents to fall in love so he can use a time machine and return to his own (restored) future." vs "Play rock 'n' roll guitar at his parent's high school dance, causing them to kiss and fall in love, and then drive a DeLorean 88 miles an hour to make a rendezvous with a lightning bolt in order to time-travel home to his now-restored future." - the latter is far more specific, and far cooler, and far more useful for a story.

Note - you don't need the specific version right away).

I ain't gonna tell you what to do other than come up with the clearest vision of what you want your story to be, start executing, and adjust as you hit the problems. But if you're going to have internal conflicts, if you think your story needs them, then they need to matter. If they don't matter, you don't actually have them.

In any case - why are you trying to see if you can do without them? For most writers they're super fun. You get to see what your characters are made of! You get to layer drama upon drama! You get a bunch of useful ways to vary pacing! What about them has you going "Oh god, I don't want this?"
 

Bramandin

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In any case - why are you trying to see if you can do without them? For most writers they're super fun. You get to see what your characters are made of! You get to layer drama upon drama! You get a bunch of useful ways to vary pacing! What about them has you going "Oh god, I don't want this?"

I think what I'm having trouble with is coming up with what specifically their internal conflicts could possibly be before I start. I do want to stop dickering around with going out to pizza where they argue about marshmallows and stuff like getting upset about having to go to school.

The first line of the fifth Legacy of Kain game sums up the internal conflict that Kain had between Blood Omen and Soul Reaver: Given the choice - whether to rule a corrupt and failing empire, or to challenge the Fates for another throw, a better throw against one's destiny - what was a king to do? I don't have anything that cool, but it also seems like not much of an internal conflict because he goes on to muse on how he didn't have a choice. His universe works on loose predestination, but I guess it's also how a story will punish a hero if they refuse the call.

This is part of what I got down today, though it's probably going to get chopped out:

Chixiksi had told Tanyanika that Sarah was injured while saving a woman’s life, but he hadn’t included specifics. (That the woman had fallen into the river they're looking at. That event happened two nights after Sarah tortured a man to death because the other vampires didn't like that she wasn't as monstrous as them.)

“What were you thinking?” Tanyanika knew that Rahabim were the only vampires that could tolerate water.

Sarah shrugged. “I wasn’t. I knew that she needed help and that I could help her. We’re both lucky that I didn’t slip or something.”

“You consider that a bad memory?” Tanyanika asked.

“I was out of sorts and a man suffered a horrible death for nothing.” Sarah sighed. “I should have known that trying to be evil wouldn’t work and eventually I’d do something heroic.”


Now I need to figure out how Tanyanika could possibly react to that. (Tanyanika doesn't know that the woman is her mother, she was a week old at the time.) The closest word Hylden had for ‘valiant act’ translated back to English as ‘tragic necessity.’ In her culture, superheroes would be viewed as suffering from some sort of insanity. Nine times out of Ten, I want the story to reinforce that.
 

The Big Peat

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Hmm. That's an interesting set up with their views on valiant acts although I can also see how it distorts working out characters. When you say you want the story reinforce this view, do you mean you want your overall story to agree wit this stance? Or that you want this culture to actually function this way so you can talk about it through your story?

When you can't see a way through, ask questions.

So you don't know how Tanyanika reacts to this? Well you've already said that Tanyanika is very fixed and proud of her cultural moral code - what does that code say about this? Why does the moral code matter so much to her anyway?
 

Bramandin

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Hmm. That's an interesting set up with their views on valiant acts although I can also see how it distorts working out characters. When you say you want the story reinforce this view, do you mean you want your overall story to agree wit this stance? Or that you want this culture to actually function this way so you can talk about it through your story?

When you can't see a way through, ask questions.

So you don't know how Tanyanika reacts to this? Well you've already said that Tanyanika is very fixed and proud of her cultural moral code - what does that code say about this? Why does the moral code matter so much to her anyway?

I want the story to reinforce the stance that superheroism is not a good thing. This is probably blasphemous, but they would consider the ending to Iron Giant to be stupid. If they recreated the Star Trek movie where Spock dies, he'd still do it but there would be a lot more anger and cussing from him. A character from another culture was a pincushion (a similar concept to a kamikaze) and even she's disturbed, though it's mostly because her sons have nearly gotten themselves killed a couple of times.

The MCU actually nodded to the same concept a few times. I think it was Avengers: Infinity War where Tony is talking to Piper and she's saying "please tell me you're not on that ship" and then he yells at Peter for not sitting the fight out. It's been a while since I saw Iron Man 2 but I think that's where they showed that he had PTSD from the time he almost blew himself up on the other side of an alien portal.

I was going to have Tanyanika focus on her ignorance of vampire values and the oddness of wanting to be evil. Or chop this out for now because I've got a juicier direction. Pretty much they've already had discussions about the compulsion to be heroic and it's not going to cause conflict until they learn that the woman Sarah saved was Tanyanika's mother.
 

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