The Revelation of Misbelief

The Revelation of MisbeliefBook One stalled for a while because I didn’t know how to handle the revelation of misbelief. In my defense, I didn’t acknowledge the place of misbelief in story telling.

Instead, I fixated on the character’s core wound. The core wound is useful for backstory. It can also fuel conflict. But it doesn’t catalyse change. And change is what story is about.

Jovanka’s core wound is the loss of her mother at the hands of her brutish, violent, vain father. It colours her relationships, it sets the tone for her life, part of who she is. It doesn’t bring about change. Carrying a core wound while everything else remains the same does not change a character’s values, perspectives or beliefs.

Uncovering a character’s misbelief, however, fuels change.

In all but the final draft of Book One, I neglected Jovanka’s misbelief. Underwritten to the point it disappeared, the revelation of misbelief drives the entire third act. And almost I missed it.

Jovanka’s misbelief relates to her Second Sight; visions or premonitions. Since childhood, she believes the Sight presents a fixed future; a destiny. Everything she’s seen has come true. It’s a difficult power to wrangle. She’s had no mentor since her mother died before the Sight became active. It is a very useful power, literally a life saver; she sees threats before they happen and can react accordingly.

The down side is that Jovanka lacks free will. Tied to a certain future, she passively follows where her visions lead her, complete with mis-steps and mistakes, often with fatal consequences for those around her.

House of Cards

The second pinch point in Book One comes with a new vision of my second protagonist. Varla goes behind enemy lines and gets himself killed. According to Jovanka’s original visions, this can’t happen; Varla is instrumental to Jovanka’s future. This creates a paradox. He can’t be in her certain future if he’s dead. One of these visions must be wrong. And she doesn’t have time to sit there and work out which. Or how. Or why.

So Jovanka makes a decision; stop Varla going on his mission. If he doesn’t go, he can’t die. But what about the mission? The new vision reveals an alternative outcome to the deadly pursuit they’re trapped in.

So Jovanka attempts the mission herself. This most dangerous event is absent from her Sight. She effectively goes off-script.

In the end, the mission fails. Fortunately she doesn’t die and thanks to her intervention, neither does Varla. But the antagonists team up. She didn’t see that coming either.

Jovanka has broken the certainty of her Sight. Her house of cards collapses.

Why and Wherefore

This incident reveals her misbelief; the Sight does not show her a fixed future. She can decide to go off-script, to act independently. Her Sight isn’t a set of rules, more like guidelines (wait, that’s the Pirate Code; never mind).

Now the visions become crossing places; suggestions of events that might happen.

The chapters that follow examine Jovanka’s new state. In the positive, her Sight was never fixed. She always had the power to ignore it or try to change the outcomes. In the negative, she feels responsible for the deaths of people she lost. Could she have warned them and avoided their deaths, or changed course to avoid the threat entirely?

This plays havoc with cause and effect. To this point, her visions played out like time travel; she sees a thing in a future due to happen. If she changes course, the future doesn’t happen, so how can she see it?

Fortunately this is fantasy, not science. And besides, thanks to Marvel and DC, we all now know what a multiverse is.

Missing Link

The trouble is, none of the drafts of Book One delved into this. Jovanka diverted Varla from the Stupid Suicide Mission and took it on herself. Her Sight was broken, but never explained. The consequences were barely explained. And the ‘needless sacrifice’ of those she could have saved wasn’t a moral dilemma.

Somehow I missed the point.

Arc of Change

We’re on the home straight…

The final re-writes either side of this pinch point makes things much clearer;


  • Jovanka’s visions and the fates of others are explicit and inevitable


And the benefits at the end of the book?

This gives the character a much more satisfying arc of change:

  • Jovanka moves from passivity to proactivity
  • there’s plenty of room for doubt, delay and disaster – she really doesn’t know what to do with her premonitions once she knows they are unreliable
  • as a plot device the Sight becomes more mysterious and uncertain and brings much more scope for inciting incidents.

For the reader, this makes Jovanka much more interesting, much more flawed and much more human. Her fear, uncertainty and doubt off-set her previous competence. Like the rest of us, she moves from childhood passivity to adult decision-making, but with a far wilder set of conditions and assumptions raising the stakes.

That’s how you handle the revelation of misbelief.

11 thoughts on “The Revelation of Misbelief”

  1. Sandra Neusüb

    Pip in Great Expectations; once he finds out his fortune is built on a lie, he’s changed man.

    Dickens bases whole plots on lies and misbeliefs all the time.

    1. Sandra, you get this year’s prize for most astute literary observation. I almost cited GE as an example. I also thought of Emma, Mansfield Park, Persuasion – any of Austen.

  2. I find the ‘why’ of character actions so much more interesting than the mechanics of the plot. Your plot sounds really complex. Its good you found the character arc among all that.

    1. I certainly hope so. It was missing for so long and I didn’t even know it.

      This is the difference between plot-driven and character-driven. For me, character should win every time.

  3. Allan J Smithie

    Perchance you’ve found the antidote to Plot Armour?

    Why does stuff happen? ‘Because the plot requires it. ‘


    1. I like to think the misbelief/revelation will provide some logical, cause-and-effect developments in plot and character. It’s not guaranteed. And sometimes you don’t pick the right misbelief. Or you miss it completely. Like I did…

  4. Charlie Peizer

    It’s easy to miss stuff when you’re too close to the detail. Got to step back and look at the whole elephant sometimes, right?

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