Building Characters – Inner Journey

I’m four months (or more) into this series on building believable characters, using Jeff Gerke’s book  Plot vs. Character. It would be wrong to give you everything he says in the book–if you want to know it all, buy the book. It’s worth it. But that being the case, I’m going to skip a bunch of pages in the book and move into Chapter 4, where Jeff discusses the inner journey.

Jeff begins the chapter with this: “The best fiction is about a character who changes in some significant way.” This bit of advise isn’t new–I’ve read it in nearly every writing book I’ve ever read. Call it a character arch, a flaw, or the hero’s journey, it’s all the same thing, and it’s necessary because readers love to see a character transform. Hopefully for the better, but any transformation will hold reader interest. Your protagonist will turn away from something that’s harmful, or turn toward something helpful. He’ll conquer a fear, or learn to put others first, or marry for love instead of money, or cut back work hours to spend time with family. He’ll become a better person by the end of the story.

Side Note: not every story needs a character who changes. Indiana Jones is who he is, and his stories are wonderful because of the action, not the protagonist. It’s the same with James Bond, Forrest Gump, and WALL-E. These characters can be agents of change for other characters, but they don’t go through a transformation. If you’re writing this type of book, you won’t need an inner journey. 

For those who do need an inner journey, begin by looking at the protagonist you’ve made. She’s got a core personality, temperament, background, love language, family, etc. Now you can work on the deeper stuff. 

There are five major phases of a character’s inner journey:

1. Initial Condition (including the “knot”)
2. Inciting Event
3. Escalation
4. Moment of Truth
5. Final State

I’ll look at these phases more in-depth in the following posts. Stay tuned.

-Sonja
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