Continuing Education 4: The Heart Of The Matter: Developing The Inner Journey Of Your Character
Writing is ultimately about story. Stories are about what a character learns, and thus what the readers learn in turn.
Susan May Warren, award-winning author and founder of My Book Therapy, presented seven steps to help authors craft the inner spiritual journey of their character in her ACFW Conference continuing education session, The Heart of the Matter: Developing the Inner Journey of Your Character.
Step 1: Spiritual darkness
Authors should ask their character what major event happened that molded his life and what he learned from it. This is the character’s dark moment from his past, as opposed to the black moment in the story.
The dark moment should be specific. The death of a parent is too general, but the moment two weeks later when your character was motherless at a mother-daughter banquet is more specific and heart wrenching.
“The key is to keep asking [your character] why, until you get to the underlying motivation to their identity and the one story they can tell you about their past,” Warren said.
Once you’ve determined the dark moment, then you can surmise the lie they believe, which will thread throughout the entire book. One lie per book is plenty.
Step 2: Confirmation of the lie
Once you’ve set up the lie, you then prove it to your protagonist. This should happen in Act I. Something has to happen to cement the lie in the character’s mind.
For example, Mel Gibson’s character in The Patriot believes the sins of his past will haunt him with a cross he can’t bear. When his son is killed and he reverts to the brutal man who ruthlessly slaughtered many, this is proven to him.
Step 3: The voice of truth
Within your book you need to drop breadcrumbs of truth to nourish your protagonist. These truth nuggets are dusted throughout the story, not dumped all at once.
Your character will gather them later when he or she has an inner epiphany. The voice of truth doesn’t have to be a face-to-face character, but could be on the radio, in a journal, or within the pages of a book.
Step 4: The realization of the lie and the testing of the truth
Eventually, your character will want to test the truth. This is the moment in the story when things seem to be on the upswing for them, which will set them up for their big fail because you’ve made the stakes even higher.
Step 5: Black moment effect
The black moment in the external story is what happens to the character. The black moment effect is how the character feels about what happened. In The Patriot, the black moment is his son’s death. The black moment effect is Mel Gibson’s character wanting to give up the cause.
Step 6: The ah-ha!
Your character will gather all the nuggets of truth left for her throughout the story and piece it all together in a truth that sets her free. The epiphany can be delivered in several ways, but here are a few common methods:
- Gradual light turning on, naturally, over time
- The big bang! method (happens suddenly)
- The reader ah-ha method (reader knows before the character)
- The wake up call (when they realize they are exactly like someone else whose flaw they can see, and realize they need to change)
Step 7: The final battle
Your character has to do something to prove their new truth. It must be a physical action, a storming of the castle. There will be a moment during this final battle where he will be attacked by his internal lie as it rears its ugly head one last time.
The character must persevere by confronting the lie and choosing the truth. Then they can have victory and seize the day as a new, changed person.
Readers want the satisfaction of knowing this character they have come to know and love has been healed, that their journey was one ultimately of joy.
Addressing the spiritual/truth element enables us to set not only our characters—but also our readers—free.
Dark lie image courtesy of Victor Habbick/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Lightbulb image courtesy of digitalart/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net