From Writers Helping Writers:
One of the simplest entry points to understanding how story works is the Lie the Character Believes. It is the fulcrum of any character arc or thematic discussion within a story. It’s also the gasoline in the engine of a character’s inner conflict—and, by extension, it can either power the outer conflict or at least be used a lens through which to view it.
As its name suggests, the Lie the Character Believes is a simplistic concept, which is exactly what makes it so valuable and utilitarian a tool for understanding story. However, as with all simplistic concepts, we must be careful not to assume it lacks complexity.
Although you can certainly frame your character’s conflict in terms of a black and white Lie/Truth dichotomy, the reality is of course more complex. And that’s exactly what we’re going to talk about today: reality—and how the Lie the Character Believes is, in fact, a gauge of the character’s relationship with reality.
What Is the Lie the Character Believes?
the Lie the Character Believes as arguably the central principle of character transformation. For those who are new to the idea, the Lie the Character Believes is the mindset the character will be challenged to arc out of over the course of the story.
If the character succeeds in transcending the Lie, the story will follow a Positive Change Arc. If the protagonist already adheres to the story’s thematic Truth and inspires supporting characters to transcend the Lie, the story will offer a Flat Arc. And if the character fails to transcend the Lie, the story will present a Negative Change Arc (of which there are at least three variations).
The Lie is a limited perspective the character holds about himself or about the world. Up until the beginning of the story, it is a perspective that has offered relative value to the character and his ability to survive and succeed within the story’s “Normal World.” However, once the character enters the crucible of what will be the story’s Adventure World, everything changes. The Lie proves itself to no longer be a functional modus operandi. From here on the, character will be challenged to adapt to the story’s thematic Truth. Only if he succeeds in (usually painfully) the expanding his perspective will he be able to grapple with the main conflict and perhaps gain the plot goal he is pursuing.
As we explored a few weeks ago, the Lie is distinct from but still closely tied in with other aspects of the character’s primary “pain point.” The Lie will usually arise from a painful experience in the character’s past—called the Ghost—which informs her way of perceiving how the world works. Very often, the Ghost will have caused a wound the character carries with her and which makes her cling even more desperately to the Lie in the belief it is somehow protecting her. This belief may be entirely accurate, or it may simply be a trauma response.
Over the course of the character’s arc, the Lie will be systematically challenged by the events of the plot. The character will slowly begin to see another possibility—the enlarged perspective of the thematic Truth. Particularly at the story’s Midpoint, he will face a Moment of Truth, in which he is able to see the validity of the new perspective even though he is not yet willing to relinquish the familiar Lie-based mindset. By the time the character reaches the Low Moment of the Third Plot Point and is faced with the impending Climax, he will have to choose whether he is willing to sacrifice the comfortable mindsets upon which he has so far depended, in order to allow himself space to the grow into the possibilities of the bigger Truth.
Link to the rest at Writers Helping Writers
PG notes that there are a lot of links in the OP and the author of the OP provides links to a book he has written on the subject of Character Arcs.