Welcome back to the series on heart healing for writers. We’re diving into what we believe about ourselves, how that ties into our characters, and how that creates a powerful theme for your story.
After following the path of your emotion deep into the recesses of your memories, you will find your beliefs, and so will your character. (You’ll want to catch up on those posts that go more in depth into earlier stages of the heart healing through writing process.)
The beliefs hiding at the base of emotional pain usually have something to say about you or your circumstances. Ask yourself in your memory, “What feels true here?” What feels true does not necessarily mean it is true. However, what feels true will point you to what you believe.
For example, picture a character that has been ignored by her parents her whole life. She longs to trust them and when she tries to reach out, they nod their heads dutifully and wave her away because they’re too busy.
Life goes on, and she finds a wonderful man of her dreams who seems very interested in her. She wants to let him in, but every time she tries, she’s overwhelmed with anxiety. What if he finds her boring? Her mind travels back to all of those times when her parents ignored her.
Deep down, she believes she’s worthless because her family never paid any attention to her.
That is how this process works in application up to the belief point. We’ll discuss how you and your characters can overcome your negative beliefs together in the next section.
The goal of the belief process is to discover what you feel is true about yourself. Negative feelings indicate negative beliefs.
When you’re crafting your story, these beliefs make up the meat and potatoes of the story. Beliefs give you powerful themes, especially when they conflict with one another.
In the example above, while feeling it is true that she is worthless, this girl also has an intense desire to be known. Why? In her mind, she also believes (now that she is a mature, reasoning adult) that she was not born an accident. She was on this earth for a reason, and she must have a purpose with something valuable to offer others.
Now we have the core of the story. This young woman needs to grow into healing, leave her childhood belief about being worthless behind, and move into a future full of love and value with this guy. (Yes, they all live happily ever after.)
The same process is true for your wounds and pains. You’ll know what’s appropriate to put into your characters and what isn’t.
Your work as the storyteller and heart healer is to create plot points in the narrative that stretch what the character believes about themselves or their circumstances, introduce them to truth at the midpoint, and plot how to show them adjusting to their transformed life until the final, glorious moment of triumph.
More About Beliefs
Most of the things we believe about ourselves were first thoughts when we were children.
Emotional triggers as adults, things that keep hurting us over and over again that we can’t seem to leave behind, are usually the result of a negative belief we adopted as a child. This is why your dark moment (and your character’s as well) will most often be a defining time in your childhood.
Following the emotion that pains you will lead you to that defining moment if you allow your mind to open. There, as the pain unfolds, gather the courage to speak out what feels true. Write it down.
This is the part of fiction that people really need. It shows them that triumph is possible even in uncertain odds. No matter the pain, press on for healing and truth. Find a friend or counsellor if you need to.
A lot of people struggle with what they believe because they have been burying what feels true for a long time. That is understandable because these painful beliefs hurt deeply and sink down into the depths of our identity.
Be patient with yourself through this process, let go of what you think you know, and begin saying what feels true.
Don’t cover up what your emotions are really telling you. There is a healthy way to process them without hurting yourself or others.
Using our words and saying how we really feel is one step toward a healthy life.
In my own journey while I was writing Ariel’s story, I noticed how emotionally dishonest I was with myself and with others. People would come up to me and ask, “Are you okay?” My automatic response is, “I’m fine.”
That is an appropriate response with a stranger, but why hide from a trusted friend or family member? If you are not okay, have the courage to tell the truth. Realize you are responsible for your own emotions.
As things come into the open, they can be healed and you can find the support you need. Perhaps your character’s journey will be one of becoming emotionally honest.
Beliefs in the Story
As I said before, beliefs will lead you to your theme. What belief are you placing into your character that you need to deal with? What conflicting beliefs (like the truth) will challenge you and your character?
Great stories with layers of depth thrive on these things, especially when you mash up two positive beliefs that can’t exist at the same time.
For example, I once heard a story of a mother whose son was of age and living out of his car. Her two conflicting beliefs were 1) I am his mother and to be a good mother, I need to take care of him and 2) He’s an adult now and I need to let him be his own person living with the consequences of his actions.
Dealing with the beliefs in that situation makes an incredibly tense scene, ergo a powerful story. As you’re moving along with your story and healing your heart through your characters, there’s plenty of room for multiple beliefs. In fact, that may be exactly what your story needs.
When using this process to write, I find it helpful to know what beliefs I’m using for the character before I get started. That way I know what dark moment from my/their childhood to use and how to tweak it so it really pulls on reader heart strings when tying into the theme.
Take the time to get through what you need to do in your own heart to get to your beliefs. While you can figure them out through your character as you write, and that is okay, your story will move along faster and be a cleaner draft if you identify at least one belief theme before writing chapter one.