the hole in her soul

October 19, 2008

a glimpse inside
a glimpse inside

Note: The Michael Hauge workshop notes begin here and continue here and here. This is the 4th installment. Happy plotting!

The INNER JOURNEY is the story told on another level. Stories that are told only on the outer surface, sticking strictly to the visible facts, tend to lack depth, drama and meaning. (Note from SW–this is why the daily news so often fails to satisfy.) Here are some questions to help you discover the key aspects of your character.

1. What is her longing? What is her deeply held desire? This is something she probably pays lip service to, but lacks the courage to pursue. She is enslaved by her own fears and inhibitions.

Some characters are so emotionally shut down that they can’t even express what it is they long for. (Rose in Titanic) It’s a need they don’t know they have–yet, maybe ever.

Show the hole in her soul. A need. A missing piece.

A longing is something the character can express. A need is unexpressed but there can be metaphors to show it–the “Keep Out” sign and fence in Shrek. (Maureen has a tattoo that expresses her unrepressed self, but she keeps it hidden and nobody knows she has it.) What is your character’s metaphorical fence?

2. What is her wound? What is the unhealed source of her continuing pain? What happened to her in the past that is unhealed but suppressed? This is something in the background, leaking through. (Maureen had a disastrous love affair while studying abroad, and came scurrying home to the safety of her family and home town.)

3. What belief has the character formed, based on her experience of the wound above? (Maureen believes passion is dangerous and fraught with deception, destined to fail and leave her hurting.)

[Note to self: This is something that really resonates with me. We all know people whose entire lives are built around avoiding pain. My recent arm mishap is a graphic reminder. In the ambulance, I was trying to make myself pass out just to escape the pain. The thing is now every color of the rainbow and I will do anything to keep from hurting it again. I’m fairly athletic, yet with this arm, I find myself tiptoeing around, afraid to bump into something. The doc said the risk of dislocating it again is high, which makes me horribly cautious. So that’s my story of avoiding physical pain. A person who has been hurt emotionally will show this kind of caution in her relationships, right?]

4. What is her emotional fear? (That the wound will happen again.) This is a belief that is logical, based on her experience, but inaccurate. <–note this; it’s important

5. THE KEY QUESTION: What is the character’s identity? Her ID is the false self she presents to the world–her emotional armor. It what she puts in front of her essence in order to protect her true self from that which she fears most deeply.

6. What is the character’s essence? If you strip away everything the character is attached to, what is left? Peel away the layers of her identity. Who does she have the potential to become? In a love story like the one in Good Will Hunting, he would rather break up with the love of his life than show who he truly is, because in the past, his father beat him and the belief he formed is that those we love and trust the most hurt us. In LC, Maureen would rather let go of Eddie than risk letting him hurt her.

So the character’s emotional arc is her transformation from her identity to her essence. In her essence, she is still fearful and vulnerable, but she is true.
Tomorrow I’ll post more about this, because it’s the key to everything in character development. For now, try to explore the contrasts between your character’s identity and his essence.

| 1 Comment
  • Susan,

    I’m just now reading “Table for Five” for the first time. What a beautiful and heart-wrenching story. It has brought me to tears several times. The most recent was last night when Lily told Sean about her brother. Talk about a hole in your soul! I always enjoy your books, but this is one of my favorites. Thank you for your books and for your blog.


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