Evolving the Character Lie: Part 2 of Positive Arcs

Evolving the Lie: Positive Character Arcs Part2


Evolve the Character’s belief in the Lie

The inciting incident or something near the end of the first character should shift your character’s belief about the lie. In Star Wars Luke learns from Obi-Wan that his father fought the empire alongside the old Jedi Knight. This influences Luke because he has always been interested in the rebellion, but now it feels like a family legacy. He father didn’t just fly freighters, he fought. It also introduces the idea that people are not honest about who Luke’s father.

Clear Up from Last Time:

Travis asked about the difference between Batman’s prolog approach to the wound, and P.S. I Love You’s inciting incident.  The difference is what events kicks off the story. The prolog event is not why Bruce becomes Batman. It’s why he’s lost in life. He becomes Batman after being trained by the League of Shadows. He adopts some of their philosophy, but when asked to kill the thief. He refuses, killing many of the members, and destroying their headquarters in a fire. That is the inciting incident.


The character has a want and a need. The lie is a belief that drives them towards what they want. The truth will lead them towards what they need.


Dilemmas and the Lie:

Structuring character development and revealing it often hinges the use of dilemmas. We’ve covered these before in their different types:

            Two things you want buy you can only have one

            Two things you don’t want, but you have to choose.

            A blend both choices have something the character wants and doesn’t want.

The dilemma serves to create a kind of checkpoint. Here we can see not only what the character chooses, but how they choose. It reveals their progress towards embracing the truth.

Star Wars: after being captured by the Empire Han Solo just wants off the ship, then he hears the words “princess, ” and it catches his interest. He has a choice. Stay focused on only escaping, or save the princess. Luke says “we’re not leaving without her,” and it forces Han to go along, but for a very small moment he hesitates on his ‘me first attitude.’


Act 2

In the second act, the character is punished for acting in accordance with their lie. At the beginning of the first act the lie was empowering to them, but now, it only creates problems, a stumbling block as they work towards what they want.

As a result of these failures, the character evolves their tactics, creating the Try Fail Cycle.

A glimpse of life without the lie, and it’s pretty awesome. How to Lose a Guy in 8 Days … she spends the weekend with his family.

Scrooge gets a glimpse of his life if had married Belle


Midpoint Turn: for character Lie

At the midpoint the character begins to shift:

Han Solo is only in it for the money; until he meets princess Leia on the Death Star at the midpoint.


The mirror moment:

This is also called the mirror moment, when the character sees themselves in the mirror and now see the truth as a possibility to get what they want, instead of the lie.

This does not mean the character rejects the lie. It just means they now have two options for pursuing what they want [still not what they need]. ---

Star Wars: Han Solo thinks if he rescues the Princess he can get more money. Helping people, without the promise of money, but the possibility. It’s a shift.

They will continue to believe the lie, but begin to act in accordance with the truth (some of the time).


Post Mid-Point Lie


The character needs an opportunity to experiment on his new found truth, a chance where he is given a choice to act in accordance with the lie, or the new truth, and decides to go with the new truth.

It should be a debate and struggle to make this choice; a catalyst will lead him to make a choice based on the truth, not the lie.

This conflict in the character between the old lie and new truth is ripe for creating a dilemma in the character, and a great place for internal conflict. If you don’t have some of these in Act 2 Part 2, you need to look again.

In Plot vs. Character, Jeff Gerke calls this “vacillation escalation” as the character acts on truth, turns back to the back and forth and back forth until a catalyst or time crunch forces a decision, and action.

            Great Example from K. M. Weiland’s Creating Character Arcs, In Toy Story Woody is helping Buzz escape from Sid’s place because he needs him to be accepted by the other toys, he doesn’t like Buzz and is still filled with jealousy, but he’s helping him out of selfish reasons. Woody is torn, helping Buzz hurts his “want goal,” but without Buzz, the toys will refuse to let Woody back in.


Contrast Your Character’s Before and After mindsets

            Think of a problem and how they would approach it while believing the lie?

            Think of how they would solve after accepting the truth?

            The Intersection: the character reaches a similar crossroads as before, but makes a different choice. In the first half, he sees the homeless man and then throws his uneaten fast food into the garbage bin. In the second half, he sees the homeless man gives him the uneaten food, along with all the loose bills in his wallet.

            This provides a dramatic representation of change and character progression.


The Great Dilemma: Want vs. Need

The great dilemma between the thing he wants and the thing he needs.

            Harry Potter: wanted friends, to fit in, to belong and he found that at Hogwarts with Ron Hermione, but he has to leave them, not knowing if they will be okay. He wants to stay with them, but he has a higher calling. He needs to stop Voldemort.

            Jeff Gerke on the Great Dilemma: “ [The protagonist] comes to understand both the promise and price of the two ways. He comes, in other words, to truly understand his choice... The moment … is not complete unless the hero understands not only what he stands to gain by choosing one option over the other, but also what he stands to lose.”

            Readers know about positive arcs. They know deep down your protagonist will choose the ‘need.’ You can throw off their confidence by having a subplot/minor character choose the want.

Throughout the second half of the second act, beginning of the third the character is divided over the truth and lie. They want one but haven’t abandoned the other. This is developed in two ways. Interiority & choice dilemmas.

The character is uncertain about both the truth and lie. They vacillate back and forth. In the third act, they keep looking back, wondering if they made the right choice.

            Example: Scrooge sees his nephew and the happiness of the Crotchet family, and he wants those things, but he hasn’t given up on his greed yet.



They have embraced the truth, but then they have a crisis of faith. A sudden rush of doubt a “What have I done moment” when the living the truth challenges them more than they thought, and they want to run back to their old life.

Once the character has embraced the truth, they need to have this new-found belief challenged. A situation arises that would make their life easier in the short term if they maintain the lie.

·         Example: Scrooge wakes from in the morning, and for the briefest moment considers it was all a dream. He can go back to his old ways immediately. He doesn’t have to change.

·         Example: In Cars, the media finds Lightning McQueen, and he can leave without fulfilling the terms of his court appointed punishment.

o   When Lightning McQueen is despondent and missing his friends in Radiator Springs, he’s mocked by Schick for not being focused.

It’s best if this final attack on the lie is part of the climax, as in Scrooge, but it can be assaulted more than once, so make sure to save the greatest assault for the climax, or very close to it.

How will your character’s devotion to the new truth be challenged?

The Climax and Character Change [Positive Arc]

How does your character prove he’s changed? Is it high enough value for the character.

·         Example: Lightning McQueen has brought his friends from Radiator Springs to be his pit crew, illustrating his change, but he hasn’t faced his great dilemma yet. That moment comes at the climax when Schick attacks King, putting him out of commission. Now, McQueen faces his great dilemma; win the piston cup, or help King. The high value of this moment tests the character change in McQueen.

How does the change help your character defeat the antagonist?

·         Example: McQueen slams on his breaks before the finish line and helps King finish his race. He loses the piston cup, but the noble act changes the way everyone feels about Schick. He’s not celebrated for winning. McQueen is celebrated for the act of help to King, and Schick's victory is empty. McQueen’s loss is celebrated, and garners the support of everyone, from his friends to the sponsors.