You’ve probably heard “change your beliefs, change your life”. There is real science behind this saying. Your beliefs actually influence your actions, which creates your reality. Our characters are no different.
Our belief systems are one of the main driving forces of our every decision, along with personality, genetic make-up, and habits. Each of these factors affects us deeply. We are who we are because of them.
Before we dive in, let’s define exactly what belief systems are and how they shape reality.
The Oxford Dictionary defines them as:
A set of principles or tenets which together form the basis of a religion, philosophy, or moral code.
Your beliefs influence your behavior. For example, if you believe you can’t do something, you either won’t try, will fail, or succeed but believe it was a fluke.
Beliefs also influence how you interact with others. If you believe you’re awkward, the chances of successful social interactions will diminish because you either, again, won’t try, or could be too nervous to think straight. You’ll be known as shy. (We’ve mostly all been there.)
Your beliefs can influence your health. Negative thoughts lead to negative emotions. An onslaught, constant flow of negative emotions can cause depression, among other conditions. It’s been proven that depression can then affect you physically.
At the other end of the spectrum is healthy living. If you believe your body is a temple and enough that you treat it so, you’ll probably exercise, watch what you eat, that type of stuff. People like this are generally happier. This is science-based, too, because exercise combats depression, anxiety, and an array of other conditions.
Eating right keeps the toxins out of your body. Meditation has numerous health benefits, including mental health. Most, if not all, real healthy living increases your dopamine level, the “happy hormone”. Hence, happier life.
People who know self-defense, because they believe it’s essential to their safety, feel a bit more confident. People who exercise, because they believe in mindfulness, are less anxious and less depressed.
Nature Vs. Nurture
No doubt you’ve heard of this argument. Existentialists believe that free-will plays the biggest part in what shapes a person, that their actions as they live make them who they are. On the other hand, there is the concept of wrapping it all up in a more simple explanation: it’s in our genes. We are the way we are because our DNA tells us so.
I believe it’s a bit more complicated than that. I’m sure you know by now that I stand strongly behind trait heritability (the way we’re raised forms us) and how strong the influence of our society is on us, but it would be unwise to deny that our genes play a part.
After all, it’s the one thing we don’t have control over.
Beliefs Influence Behavior
What your characters believe will influence their every action, but it will also influence every connection they have. From how they treat the other characters to their communication style. Your character’s belief will limit them or make anything possible.
Think about your primary characters. How spiritual are they? Their level of spirituality will influence their decisions and their behavior. What are their traditional beliefs? Has their society conditioned them (probably) and in what way? How does this way form what they believe? Do they believe there is a clear line between gender roles? Is the society they grew up in more or less accepting of individuality or conformity?
Now, for the bigger questions concerning your story. How do your character’s beliefs play a part in your story? Overall, it should be in a big way. Your character’s beliefs created their reality. Many stories are about the hero’s journey, and this often leads to a new type of society. A new type of society will probably challenge every single one of your character’s beliefs, leading to reality-shaking changes.
These beliefs will affect everything from theme to dialogue. Think hard about each of your main character’s belief systems, how it affects the story, and how it affects their interactions.
Think about what your character will learn by the end of the story (which ties into theme) and this will help you figure out your character’s belief system in the beginning and how it shapes their world.
Beliefs Influence Health
Maybe your character as a negative outlook on life because of how past experiences has shaped them. This causes tension in your story between them and other characters. Long-term mental suffering usually creates a chronic physical illness, which plays a part in your story.
This can range from sleep deprivation, which will negatively affect every decision they make, to chronic headaches. This could be a contrast to their almost always happy mood compared to other character’s moods (tensions!). Broken bones will limit your characters for some time, self-inflicted injuries and mind states will make other characters treat that character differently.
We also have non-physical suffering. Stuff like financial problems, loss, and esoteric suffering. All of this can be connected to beliefs, and it can all be useful for tension and conflict in your story. Just make sure it’s authentic to your characters.
What are some of the ways your character’s behave due to their beliefs? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to like, share, and follow!