Next week, I’ll start teaching my on-line teen class, “Oh What a Character,” through the Loft Literary Center.
One of the things which has helped me a great deal when crafting my characters is understanding Character Essence.
A good story will show both a character’s external journey and their internal one. The external journey is what the character will accomplish by the end of the story. For example, to win something, to stop someone or something, or to escape. The inner journey is how the character will transform by the end of the story. Screenwriter and writing teacher, Michael Hague says, “A character arc is the journey from living in fear to living courageously.” Others often refer to the character arc as the growth the protagonist undergoes during the story.
In a great post entitled, “Are These Characters the Perfect Match?” Jami Gold writes:
A character’s essence is what lies behind that armor, and it’s who they have the potential to become. The problem for them comes in that they think the mask is who they really are. They don’t think they need to change, especially because they’ve rationalized the belief they hold to be perfectly logical. Most of their struggle might even happen on a subconscious level.
But in a good romance (or story with a love interest), the perfect match for a character will be able to see behind that emotional armor. This creates conflict between who characters think they are and who they can be. Who they must become if they’re to find the courage to meet their longing or need.
Their internal conflict is choosing to move from safe-but-unfulfilled to terrified-but-fulfilled. Only then can they be with the other character who will meet their needs.
In order to figure out this inner plot, there are some questions you can ask yourself:
What does the character long for or need in the story?
What is the past wound or hurt that is the current unhealed source of pain?
What is the character’s beliefs due to the wound? How do these beliefs shape their worldview?
What terrifies the character emotionally? Some form of facing the wound again.
What is the false self the character has created that shields them from the wound?
What lies under all the emotional armor? The true self?
You can read more about each of these stages here.
If you’d like a handy little chart to work with for your story, you can find that here.