And so… here we are. And don’t be surprise by the ominous feeling we’re getting here, cause this time we’re diving deep into character development, probably the most painful and self reflecting part of the writing journey. Yes, it’s time to tackle the personal aspect of our story, about our protagonist and by consequence, of any other character in our roster.
It is time to talk about the Ghost/Wound.
But before going to crazytown, let’s make a quick recap of all the progress we’ve made so far, shall we?
First, we have our:
Big truth and character-specific truth:
If generally “Hope gives people a reason to live”, then specifically, “Hope can help you survive and be free from injustice”.
Big lie and character-specific lie:
If generally “Hope makes people suffer and waste their lives”, then specifically, “Hope can make you suffer and get you killed”.
Then, we chose “escape from prison” as the thing the character wants, and, “to understand that his actions not only reignited hope inside him but also gave hope to others, shifting the balance of injustice inside prison” as the thing the character needs.
Now, to understand how a proper Ghost/Wound works, and by that I mean it works for our story, we have to think for a moment about the thing the character needs. If we have a character that has to learn that “his actions can reignite hope for him and also give hope to others” we’re also talking about a character that has lost hope in the first place, but also, a character that can inspire others.
Taking these two ideas we can say that our character has something special about him, something that can inspire others, but it seems that they can’t see this at the start point, given that they have to learn this truth as part of the story objective. So, let’s ask ourselves, which type of character has no hope because they can’t see who they really are. Maybe this character can accomplish amazing feats but fails to see value in himself, so much that they need to be put in a catastrophic situation to learn their true value.
Here’s where the Ghost makes its appearance.
Let’s define this value first, right? so we can talk about the same thing moving forward.
The Ghost is a motivating event in your character’s past that represents the moment and reason the lie first took root in their life. The lie you say?
Hope can make you suffer and get you killed.
What we’re saying here is that something happened in the character’s past that makes them believe that experiencing hope is a dangerous thing, so much that in having hope they think suffering and death are inevitable.
Let’s say that, as a young boy, the protagonist lived in a war zone, where his mother takes the hopeful decision to stay at home, while all the other families fled because she had the hope that her husband would return to them as promised and couldn’t leave him behind, because of hope. And so, father never arrived, by enemy soldiers did, effectively killing her and the protagonist’s sisters.
From this point forward, our protagonist holds the belief that experiencing hope will inevitably lead to suffering and to the possibility of being killed.
Now, this Ghost from our protagonist’s past has produced a Wound on him, and wounds need to heal. Before you go on asking how can a wound heal, and I tell you right now, the answer is right there in the proposition, let’s talk a bit about it.
So, What’s this Wound thing exactly?
A wound is an aftermath of experiencing the ghost, it is often expressed through some fear that the character tries to avoid at all cost. Because of the traumatic nature of this experience, the wound acts like a defensive mechanism that prevents the character from being hurt again, but it also prevents them to overcome the experience and have a better life, beyond fear.
It is expressed as a personality trait (or a group of them) that protects the character from being harmed and maintains some control over their experience. At the same time, the wound makes the character see reality from a distorted point of view that prevents them from seeing the truth.
In our protagonist’s case, the wound of having lost their family over hope, their belief that experiencing it can lead to suffering and death, can be summarized in “fear of change“. What do I mean by that, I mean that the character will prefer to accept things as they come, building a comfortable and protected life, free of risk or gamble, to actually avoid the need of experiencing hope for better things. As long as the character stays “imprisoned” in his own lack of hope, they will at least not experience any suffering and will avoid death.
Now, what type of character traits can encompass a character that’s experiencing fear of change?
- They will choose to not get involved emotionally.
- They will not have an opinion on things that can cause backlash.
- They will prefer enclosure.
- They will not be as open as to trust others.
Are you getting the idea? Okay, as you can see, a ghost from the past produces a wound that the character needs to overcome to have a proper life. Until then, they will keep suffering on their own accord, which summing up an external conflict and goals to achieve can make up a real recipe for disaster.
But, do not despair yet, because not everything is lost for our protagonist. Remember that at one point we talked about something special about the character? because the truth is that our protagonist can inspire others, to give them hope at the same time they discover it for themselves.
Now we’re talking about the Basic Action, which is also thought about as the “character’s weapon“, an ability or set of personality traits that have a positive impact and that can help them achieve their goal towards the truth.
And you know what’s the most incredible part of this Basic Action/Weapon?
Most of the time, the protagonist has it but, because of the Ghost/Wound/Lie situation, they can’t see it in themselves. That’s why they need to go through the ordeal that the story proposes, to understand their true value, to change the perception they have about themselves.
In our case, what could be the Basic Action of our protagonist?
Maybe this lack of hope leads them to be selfless, maybe even brave or painfully honest. Maybe lack of hope gives them a clear perspective on human affairs, the information they could use to achieve things. Maybe a life without hope has to lead them to be skillful not to rely on others.
To keep our story going, let’s say our protagonist is a skillful and selfless person, who has fear of change and so prefers not to attempt to change the destiny of things.
And that’s it for today! Next time we’ll use all of the information we have so far to start building our plot.
Until then, good luck in writing!