March 23, 2020

Change the World With Your Writing~Taking Characters to Greater Depths (Part 2)

p. m. terrell     @pmterrell

Award-winning "Twist and Turn" author

In Part 1, we explored external factors that plunge the main character into a journey of transformation. In Part 2, we explore the internal force that can accomplish the transformation.

An internal force is something that the character suffers due to their own action or inaction, plunging them into a personal journey.

Inaction occurs when the character should have taken steps to avoid a potentially cataclysmic event, but their efforts either fell short or were nothing at all. An example is when the character hears that tiny voice urging them not to take that deserted road, but they ignore it and do so anyway. Of course, the road leads to danger, and they must discover an inner part of themselves to overcome the obstacles in their path, escape the danger, and arrive on the other side.

Action occurs when the character does something specific that places them on the wrong path. This often means they must right a wrong during their journey. A perfect example is Ebenezer Scrooge in the Charles Dickens’ classic, A Christmas Carol. He has almost total control of his life and his business, and even exerts control on those around him. The choices he has made throughout his life come back to haunt him through the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future, taking him along a journey that must transform him and right the wrongs he has inflicted.

Sometimes our hero’s choices and inner drive carry them into an external catastrophe. In Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, the true story of the Mount Everest disaster of May 1996, we learn of the choices each climber made, and the sacrifices they and their families endured, to summit the world’s tallest peak. While the storm itself was external, each character was in its path due to those conscious choices they made.

Like an external force, the internal force must bring the character to their very depths. The formula then becomes:

1.      Their world has changed due specifically to the decisions they made.
2.      They must recognize the past forks in the road and how their decisions placed them on their current path.
3.      Though their journey began due to their own choices, they lose control of the outcome. Whether that loss is permanent depends specifically on the character’s future choices.
4.      When the hero is completely boxed in, the necessary inner transformation becomes the external transformation that catapults our hero toward the climactic scene.

Steps 2 and 3 above are interchangeable; the hero might recognize that they have lost total control of their circumstances before being able to see that the choices they made placed them on their path, or they may recognize their own errors but be unable to alter their fate until the inner transformation has taken place.

By taking your characters through these journeys, both the characters and the plots tend to speak louder to the reader, creating a classic that withstands the test of time, because people tend to go through the same types of journeys regardless of the era.

Next month: Taking the Characters to Greater Heights—and it’s not all roses and sunshine.

p.m.terrell is the award-winning, internationally acclaimed author of more than 24 books ranging from historical to suspense. She has used stressors in many of her books, including divorce (A Thin Slice of Heaven), a new job (Kickback), moving to a new place (Vicki’s Key), and others. Her most popular books, Songbirds are Free and River Passage, are creative nonfiction about her ancestors’ roles in migrating west in America while many of her suspense incorporate Ireland, her ancestral home, including Checkmate: Clans and Castles. p.m.terrell’s newest suspenseful ghost story April in the Back of Beyond.

1 comment:

  1. This was great Trish. These steps are very helpful in writing the choices for characters. I appreciate you sharing these. Some of the books I read I can see where they use this, but others I read don't have this clear. That inner transformation is so important.