I’ve just discovered something interesting: characters lie.
I decided to test a theory provided in Movies of the Mind: How to Build a Short Story by Colleen Mariah Rae (a good book, btw–review forthcoming) and I was bewildered by the results.
Let me back up for a moment and say that I know that characters have the capacity to lie. But in this exercise, I discovered that the characters can lie to me.
Up until this point, I believed it was impossible because I had the notion that I was god in my characters’ world–knowing and seeing all. (And also because I probably had intrinsically honest characters–none of them had reason to lie.)
This stunning revelation came about when I asked the other characters in my WIP to tell me about Tristan. Somehow he just didn’t seem right, as though he were too stiff and dodgy, and I needed to get to the bottom of it.
After playing detective and threading together their observances, I realized Tristan had been lying to me all along. When I called him out* and asked why, he told me that if I knew the truth I’d paint him in a bad light and people would hate him; he wouldn’t have a shot at redeeming himself. Well, don’t that just beat all?
I empathized with him. Sometimes first impressions can be rough. And mistakes? We’ve all made them. Unfortunately, some mistakes haunt us longer than others and Tristan’s list is ten miles long and five miles wide. But I told him that he isn’t irredeemable–in fact, he is redeemed. (Sort of–hey, we can still lie to our characters too you know.)
Now that I have the full scoop on Tristan, I can go back to revisions with a bit more understanding. Hooray!
* My characters are like real people who’ve taken up residence in my head. We have conversations (and arguments) just like anyone else.