The Writer’s Inner Journey

Creating believable characters is hard and showing how they change emotionally during the course of the story, harder still. Sometimes I feel like I need a degree in psychology to get it right.

In my last two blog posts I discussed character arcs, also known as the internal journey, or in the vernacular, emotional baggage. We all have it, but often it’s human nature to bury our heads in the sand and not think about it too much. However, examining our own inner psyche and the journey we have made through life, may help provide us with a better understanding of the characters we create.

Dara Marks, in her book The Power of the Transformational Arc, maintains that in order for a writer to be successful, they not only have to know their story, but also know themselves. She says:

“A natural story structure is one that reflects the true nature of the human experience.”

Or as Aristotle put it “Drama imitates life.’

One of the first things I learned about story structure was that every character should have a goal, and this in itself is a reflection of the human condition. Psychologist Abraham Maslow describes humans as “wanting animals”. As soon as we get one thing, we move on to wanting something else. To show how we prioritise these different wants, he developed the Hierarchy of Need.

At the bottom is the basic need for food, shelter and safety, we then move on to want love, self-respect and finally, self-actualisation. In character-driven fiction, it is these latter needs that often form part of a character’s inner journey whilst action movies may focus on more basic needs, such as safety.

Image result for maslow hierarchy of needs image

Whether a story is character or plot driven, our characters will face obstacles which will force them to make decisions. But sometimes it’s difficult to know which path our heroines and heroes should take. Whatever they choose to do, it must be believable and consistent with the background we have given them. That’s when it can be helpful to draw on personal eperiences.

At birth, inherited DNA aside, we are pretty much a blank canvas. It is what happens next that creates character such as parenting, upbringing, schooling etc.  All these factors will influence the type of person we become, how we respond to adversity and the decisions we make. Our characters need to evolve in the same way.

My favourite TV programme at the moment is First Dates where single people of all ages and background are looking for love. Some talk about their parent’s bitter divorce, a  cheating ex, or tragically, a loved one who has died. These experiences have made them reluctant to open their hearts because they fear being hurt again and to love makes us vulnerable.

Image result for first dates tv show

If we can similarly understand our own vulnerabilities and where they come from, it may help make us become better writers and in turn, create believable characters.

Maslow says: “human motivation is based on people seeking fulfilment and change through personal growth.”

It could almost be a line from a writing craft book.

 

about-the-author

Lizzie Hermanson is a wife, mother and talented procrastinator. She writes contemporary romance when her cat isn’t hogging the keyboard and loves Happy Ever Afters. Find her @lizziehermanson

It takes a Village of Writers by Roxanna Haley

I’ve had the pleasure recently of working with a great group of authors and publishing the fifth anthology in the Bowman’s Inn series. Five times, we have met deadlines, sweated through the editing and rewriting, and done our best to get these great stories noticed by readers. The task was fun, but not easy. Continue reading

Plot Points, Pinch Points and Character Goals

arches photo

We all know we’re supposed to have plot points and pinches and turns and twists and arcs in our novels, but how are they relevant to internal and external goals?

My preferred quick and dirty overall skeleton is Dan Wells’ seven point system, which runs as follows:

Hook

First Plot Point – Around the 25% mark of the novel

Pinch Point One – Around 40% of the way in

Midpoint – Halfway (Else it wouldn’t be the midpoint…)

Pinch Point Two – Around the 60% mark

Second Plot Point – Around the 75% mark

Resolution

Having established where all these points should come in my pantsed novel, I mapped out where my plot points do fall. It turns out that not only do I have plot and pinch points for the external story but also for the internal story line. My overall story goal was to get my FMC in a place where she is confident in her ability to manage a large demesne (medieval romance), so I needed the various plots and pinches in certain places relevant to this goal. This was difficult, because I wasn’t sure what constituted a plot point. Was it a kiss?

kiss photo

Or was it her enemy invading her home and trying to take it by force?

The first plot point must be a game changer, according to Larry Brooks. It must define the hero’s need and quest going forward. Something, or someone, enters the story and alters the hero’s status.

I struggled with identifying what my first plot point was, until I realised I had two. One for my FMC’s internal need/goal, and one for the external.

It turns out that the kiss is the first plot point for her internal goal because it changes how she thinks. Before, she thought she could resist this guy. After – she knows she can’t resist him and must stay away until she knows how to resist him.

The invasion is the first plot point for the external goal – which is for her to manage the demesne alone, without the need to get married again (we’re talking medieval, here, remember!). This invasion alters her status by establishing that she needs help. The question then becomes – from where should she seek help?

The same happened for the pinch points and midpoint. They all occurred roughly at the right times, give or take ten pages or so. When I was done, I had mapped out all the points for both her internal and her external goals!

For anyone reading this, my comments might be a ‘duh, you twit, didn’t you know that’ moment, but I wasn’t aware of this, and now I am, I am determined to add this to my next novel to give it greater depth.