The best novels feature characters who grow through their trials (or in the case of tragedies, fail to grow). It’s called the inner journey, or inner arc, or as Donald Maass puts it in his book Writing The Break-Out Novel, inner conflict. I’m working with this concept now in my current WIP (work in progress), but it’s tricky. This is the second book of a series. My character already grew in book 1 and conquered one of her biggest fears. What’s left for her to conquer?
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Maass has an excellent workbook to go along with the text that includes an exercise sheet. The questions say, “Thinking about your protagonist in the novel as a whole, what is it that your protagonist most wants? Write that down.” Then, “Write down whatever is the opposite of that.” Finally, “How can your protagonist want both of those things simultaneously? What would cause your protagonist to want them both? What steps would he actively take to pursue those conflicting desires?”
This exercise is making me dig deeper in my character, to discover things that hadn’t occurred to me before. Cassie still has her besetting fears (agoraphobia, xenophobia, arachnophobia, and the list continues), but she’s working on them. She began the conquering process in book 1. Now book 2 deals with a new set of issues: she wants to use her “gift” to save people. But she still wants to hang onto her comfort zones. How can she save people if she refuses to leave her home? How can she use her gift and avoid strangers? She obviously can’t have both.
Interesting dilemma. I’ll play around with this idea and see what I come up with. In the mean time, take a look at your own WIP and identify what your protagonist wants most and how the opposite would create a beautiful mess of your story. Feel free to share your results in the comments section.