Completing a Character Arc: Misbelief

Completing a Character Arc: MisbeliefThis week I found the key in completing a character arc: misbelief. It followed two years of writing, ignoring that my protagonist wasn’t working.

Misbelief is a concept I first picked up from story coach Lisa Cron a while ago:

Ask yourself, what is my protagonist’s misbelief? What one, defining thing does she think is true about the world that is going to be proven false?

What is the lie that protagonist believes? It’s a question I find repeated by writing coaches almost weekly. And I didn’t address it. Until this week. Being honest, I stumbled into the answer. Stick with me while I pull back the curtain on my writing process.

Plot and Motivation Redux

It all goes back to the original draft when I had a different protagonist – Lukash Varla. Switching character point of view to Jovanka meant some elements of my novel’s plot no longer worked.

Originally, Varla stubbornly set off on The Stupid Suicide Mission to take out the antagonist. His effort to ‘cut the head off the snake’ fails. In the rewrite, Jovanka needed a solid, proactive reason to go in his place.

Fortunately she’s a Seer with Second Sight. A small rewrite turns Varla’s tense, Stupid Suicide Mission into Jovanka’s shocking premonition of his death. This gives her a reason to drug him to stop him leaving. That’s Stupid Decision Number One, stoking some character conflict for later. Jovanka is desperate enough to try the plan herself. Cue Stupid Decision Number Two; what happened to teamwork?

Her plan doesn’t work either, but Varla is still alive.

Jo’s Misbelief

The story begins with Jovanka’s belief in her Second Sight. Tortured since childhood with visions of the future, Jovanka knows her mentor is going to die early in their journey. So many of her premonitions come true, she has no capacity for doubt. Until the Stupid Suicide Mission.

We’ve seen Jovanka as a proactive character, driven to action. Except she follows her visions along paths of certainty. In her desperation to save Varla, she challenges her Second Sight and attempts to change events.

This re-frames her visions as possibilities, not certainties. She’s talked about her visions as crossing places with multiple outcomes, without really knowing what that means. All very cool and mysterious and dramatic. And I didn’t know what that meant either.

Both versions of the Stupid Suicide Mission fulfilled the story beat ‘seizing the sword’ with the characters going from reactive to proactive. It provides the launchpad to the climactic final act.

It only occurred to me two weeks later: the new version breaks the character’s misbelief. She proves the future in her visions is not set. The truth is she can change her future. It’s a restoration of her free will, an enabling moment that galvanises the character to action for Act Three.

I spent two years not addressing Jovanka’s lie or misbelief. Two years not fully understanding the character, although I had enough faith in the character’s journey to keep going with it.

Suddenly the pieces fell into place. That’s creativity for you.

3 thoughts on “Completing a Character Arc: Misbelief”

  1. Misbelief is interesting concept in fictional person. Is lying to yourself. I not had thought this in popular fiction.

    1. Ulf: it’s more specific than that. Misbelief is the thing they don’t realise is holding them back. Inner conflict implies they have known choices. Misbelief is the thing forcing them down a certain path. Misblief has to be reveal. Inner conflict has to be decided.

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