So while your hero has been undergoing all sorts of adventures and challenges on his outer journey, he has also been undergoing some sort of inner turmoil and change. Our own hero, Michael Hauge, has a fair bit to say about this as well. Here is my summary of some of his key points which I have found helpful:
First of all, Michael reminds us that, for readers, stories begin on the level of plot and that we need to see a visible journey before we can explore the deeper meaning imbedded in the story. While the outer journey shows your hero overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds to achieve a visible goal, the inner journey reveals your hero’s path to fulfillment, peace and some sort of inner change.
Michael says that quite often in stories the hero starts out being defined by others and by the end of the journey, she has defined herself.
Michael identifies certain qualities which he says all heros have:
- LONGING OR NEED
All heros want or need something. Some heros may be aware of this need and express it and others may not verbalize it, but on some level it is apparent that their lives are deficient. Something is missing. If it is expressed it is a longing, but the hero is paying lip service to it and is too afraid to actually go after what he wants. If the hero is unaware of it, and doesn’t even express it, then it is a need but the hero is too afraid to even admit that there is something missing from his life.
It is your job as the writer to present the hero with an opportunity to go after what it is that he wants but is too afraid to pursue. This creates a level of emotional conflict in your story.
The hero must have suffered some wound before your story even begins, or very early on in the story. Whether or not this is referred to explicitly, there must be a sense that your hero is damaged in some way and that this wound is a source of ongoing pain and avoidance behaviour in your character. The wound is a source of fear in your hero and this is the reason he or she is not going after the fulfillment of their need. Did your hero have his heart broken by someone else? Was he abused by his father? Was she humiliated by her boss? Did someone close to her die?
Out of your hero’s fear grows his or her identity. Identity is the way the hero defines himself to the world (this is true of us too). It is what he sees himself as being and it serves the important purpose of protecting the hero from his fear. It is the outer shell. Identity is what the hero is, not who he is. Constituents of identity are: job, family, location, beliefs, money, position, role, upbringing, etc. Identity protects the hero but also prevents him from being who he truly is. (Rings true doesn’t it?)
Now, if you take away everything your character is attached to, what would be left? Strip away title, status, job, geographical location, family, financial standing, public position, etc. And what is left is who he is. What is left is the spiritual, deeper self – the essence.
And here is the nub: In order for your hero to achieve her visible goal (outer journey language) or to fulfill her longing (inner journey language) she will have to get rid of her protection, shed her identity and stand up for who she really is.
The inner journey is the journey from IDENTITY to ESSENCE and this journey parallels the outer journey in pursuit of the external, visible goal. Character arc stories are essentially stories of life and death, not necessarily actual death (as would happen in the outer journey) but death of the identity in order to fulfill the hero’s longing and allow him to live true to his essence.
This transition from identity to essence is not instant, it takes time (generally the length of your novel) and is a gradual process during which the hero gets stronger, is tested, and is finally able to shed his identity and find his essence. (In a tragedy, however, the hero may not learn anything, may not change, and goes through inordinate tribulations for nothing –that’s why tragedies leave us feeling so hollow.)
Before I leave you to ponder, and hopefully incorporate some of Michael Hauge’s valuable insights into your own writing, here is an interesting little exercise you could try.
To figure out your hero’s identity complete the following sentence:
“I’ll do whatever it takes to achieve my goal, just don’t ask me to ______________ because it’s just not me.”
You might learn something about your own identity too!
To find out more about Linda Dorrington and her novel “Mungo Joudry” click here.
To find out more about the Hero’s Inner Journey, click here.