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Thursday, February 17, 2011

T3 - Challenging Your Character's Inner Lies

Last week I wrote a post, The Lies Our Characters Live By, in which I discussed various examples of internal lies a character (or person) can believe about him or herself. How would a therapist go about unearthing that lie and then challenging it to help the character achieve inner healing?

A transactional analysis therapist (click here for more info) understands that people make decisions as children based on injunctions they receive from their parents. (Injunctions and decisions were covered last week in The Lies Our Characters Live By post.)

TA therapists believe that whatever injunctions a person received as a child--and whatever the resulting internal lie from that injunction was--can be challenged and replaced with a different truth. This is called a redecision.

So, put your therapist caps on. You're about to treat your own character. Don't worry--no degree required. :) Doing this exercise with your character should hopefully help you write their internal character arc in a powerful, meaningful way.

1) Return to the scene of the crime. (Backstory)

Get your character to open up to you about a scene from their childhood when they internalized an injunction from their parents that led to self-limiting actions or thoughts (lies!). Have the character reexperience the scene.

I'll walk a character through an example. Say I've got Charlie, who never got any attention from his parents when he showed independence. He only received positive strokes (read post here) when he was helpless. Perhaps he visualizes a scene where he went out and mowed the lawn on his own and his father came home from work just as he was finishing. Instead of being pleased that his son had helped out around the house, Charlie's dad is furious. "You're not old enough to take the mower out by yourself! You could have hurt yourself."

2) Have them relive it with an alternate ending. (Crisis of Belief)

A little fantasy goes a long way. Have the character recreate the ending to the scene. Have them challenge the injunction they received from their parents (or possibly some other authority figure) by using the knowledge they have in the present to effect the redecision they need to make.

In the example above, Charlie had the injunction of "Don't grow up." He made the decision to "remain a child forever, to be immature." He likewise set out on a course to prove just how immature he could be...perhaps he turned into a playboy or gambler or some other vice that always made him dependent on others to bail him out...much like dad always did.

Charlie goes back to the scene of the crime, but instead of internalizing the injunction of "don't grow," and making the decision to live that out, Charlie changes the ending. Dad just returned home and lit into him about not being old enough to mow the lawn. He stands up to his dad and says, "Even though I want your approval and attention, I don't need it to exist. Your acceptance isn't worth the price I have to pay for it. I'll be the man I want to be, not the boy you want me to be."

3) Play out the redecision in a scene close to the ending of your book. (Climax)

Put the character's new redecision to the test. Put them in a similar circumstance to where they normally would have defaulted to live out their previous, inappropriate decision...but have them make the right choice.

Charlie has made the redecision to be his own man. He finds himself back at a casino having to retrieve a friend. The dealer, a long-time friend, calls to Charlie to come over and play. Charlie faces the climax scene (fork in the road) of whether to pull up a seat and cash his recent paycheck into chips, or grab his friend and exit the place, because he's got to pay his rent with that money. He leaves the casino with the check still in his pocket, having made the responsible decision that won't bring him back to his dad begging for money or for someone else to bail him out.

Now your character is all healed. Congratulations! You make a great therapist/author. :)

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Haven said...

This makes a lot of sense. One of my biggest problems is creating alternate endings, but not being able to escape the negative outcomes. It can be very difficult to quite the destructive thoughts. I think with practice and determination it’s possible to quiet the negative and focus on the positive.

Misha Gerrick said...

Hmmm... this is an interesting post. I've never thought about this before, but one of my characters is living under an injunction...

Great fodder for more story. ;-)

Keli Gwyn said...

Great info, Jeannie. I read your posts, and my mind gets busy thinking how I can use the info in my stories. Keep up the good work.

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.