Once upon a time, a young girl loved to play with very delicate dishes. Her mother always warned her to be careful. “Make sure you don’t try to lift one that’s too heavy for you. If you do, it will slip and fall onto the hard tile and smash into pieces that will cut you.”
The girl did as her mother asked and was very careful. She liked to pick them up, feel them all around. How delicate and important they all were! There was one, however, that always seemed too heavy. Heeding her mother’s advice, she didn’t touch it.
Then one day, when she was very grown up and strong indeed, she said to herself, “Now I will hold that dish. It won’t be too heavy!” And she grabbed it hard and lifted with all her strength. She didn’t treat it delicately, as she did with the others. She wasn’t careful, and she dropped it. It smashed on the tile floor. Pieces flew everywhere, and her foot got cut. She went to bed with tears in her eyes.
I sometimes see life as a series of locks. Everyone is given their own problems and a choice: be hindered by them or solve them.
My choice is to solve them. I am patient. I observe each lock carefully from all sides. I understand its appearance well enough when I know the next question to answer. For that, I must take it in my hands and feel it, put my fingers in its crannies, note its weight and whether its innards shift as I balance it on its different sides.
Most of all, I note the keyhole. Because the point of inspecting these locks so carefully is to solve them. That only happens when I find the key.
Keys can be found in any number of places. They like to hide on the internet, in libraries, even in the street. Sometimes they are handed to you by a dear and trusted friend. Other times, they are put into your hand by a complete stranger.
In any case, the only way you can know the value of any given key is by knowing that it solves one of your locks. And that can only be done if you investigate each lock until you know them as you know yourself.
I’m sure everyone has at least one of these. It is a problem that is harder than any other. For some reason, you can’t treat it the same as your other problems. It’s too connected to your core, too tied to your emotions. It’s very difficult to come at it with your usual delicacy.
Despite our temptation to muscle through these most difficult locks, they should be treated with more care, not less.
I recently thought to myself, “Hey! There’s that lock I hate. I don’t even think it is a lock! It’s just a big bad thing; no way it’s going to lead to anything good. I’m mature and wise enough now. Attack!”
Because of my disgust for it, I went at it ham-fistedly! … Not a good idea. I don’t even know if it cut me or burned me.
The lie your character believes
One of my favorite blogs is called HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors. A helpful series of posts is entitled “How to Write Character Arcs”. Look at Part 2: The Lie Your Character Believes. The idea is that every character who grows in a positive change arc (in which they end the story better than they began), starts by believing some lie about themselves or the world. The lie could be anything, but is usually connected to the character’s misunderstanding of self-worth.
The job of the author is to give that character the exact adventure he would need in order to realize his lie, solve it, and live happily with the truth.
In that post, there is a section called, “Symptoms of the Lie”. These include “fear, extreme hurt, inability to forgive, guilt, horrible secrets, shame over something done or suffered”. K.M. Weiland suggests that, in order to find this lie that your character is hiding, just look to these symptoms. You’ll find something wrong, and it will fuel the inner conflict that makes the character arc of your story.
Those are the sorts of symptoms that would make any character either ignore or muscle their way through it. Hm…
The lie we believe
I suggest that these “problem locks” are the ones that have very important truths hidden behind them. Unlocking them will lead us to a truer understanding of our self-worth. But it is also very difficult for us to deal with them in our usual, gentle ways. Instead, it will probably take an adventure like none other. There will be pain, but we must bear it with patience.
I’ll let you know how it goes.