Now that we’ve identified who our people are, what they face and how they travel through the storyline, we circle back to what we learned about them in the beginning (especially the Protagonist).
The who of the Protagonist included her foibles, no? Those things that have plagued her since, well, childhood probably but come to fruition as she’s embarking on her journey. We learned of her true nemesis early in Part 3 of this series—it’s the reason she refused the call in the first place.
Sometimes this is somewhat hidden from her as well. She may have a bit of the unreliable narrator in her. And the things that hold her back grow slowly more apparent to her as the plot moves along (even if the reader identified it early on).
Or, she can know full well to begin that public speaking makes her quake in her boots to begin with. Which is why when she’s propped up to the podium she freezes.
But the important part of that is, why is she so terrified of public speaking? What true fear underlies that?
And it may take us the course of the novel to find that out.
But you, as the author, have to dig deep and discern it, hopefully as soon as possible.
Of course, if you’re writing from discovery, it may take you the entire course of the first draft to identify it. Which is perfectly fine—you can go back and add texture and layers and foreshadowing in revisions.
This often becomes starkly apparent as she’s going through the midsection of the book—where she faces trials and tribulations, gains allies and meets foes. That’s what the middle section does: In meeting challenges, more and deeper issues come to light within her.
Memories, flashbacks, perhaps even including bits of that short story about her childhood or youth that you wrote in Part 1 arise. They surface organically through what she’s going through now. And your reader learns pieces of her past that become apropos to the storyline, the plot, and her character development.
Real life is like that, no? When you’ve embarked on a quest, a journey of the unknown, aren’t you sometimes surprised when something arises from your deep self you didn’t even know existed?
If you do this skillfully, this becomes a true “ah-ha” moment for your reader.
Think of the books you’ve loved, and how when finally the hero descends (usually kicking and screaming) into that inmost cave (whatever that is for him), his greatest fear awaits him. That thing that’s held him back all this time.
A stark example of this is Tom Wingo in Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides. A brilliant man, acerbic just to the point of no return, but hilarious in his insights and spot-on commentary, teeters on the edge of a failed life. His equally brilliant and much more successful wife is having an affair. His career is stalled. We sense through the course of the book that some nameless something is holding him back.
His sister’s nth-suicide attempt propels him out of his comfort zone (literally and figuratively, as he must leave his comfortable Southern existence to go tend her in NYC. He has, indeed, entered into a strange new world).
And in his willingness to help her psychiatrist find the root of her suicidal tendencies, he must come face to face with his own. Even if his played out as suicide on the installment plan.
And what finally comes out is a doozie indeed.
But didn’t it make his character and the storyline all fit together? Once we finally learn the “family truth,” in all its blazing horror, we know exactly why his life has played out as it has. What he and his sister had stuffed from childhood, by decree from their mother, helps all the jagged pieces fit back into one whole.
Now, that’s the key—that whatever lurks beneath fits with our characters and storyline. All of them. The brilliance of Conroy was that the beast in his story effected all the main characters—in ways that fit who he’d already portrayed them to be.
This thing, this internal beast, this monster that owns a person until he finally faces it, is the critical essence of your character. And, by proxy, your story. Because remember—the external conflict must mirror the internal one.
Now, all characters of course aren’t stuffing something as earth-shattering as Tom Wingo’s monster. Thank goodness. But everyone has a neurosis, large or small.
Find the one that owns your Protagonist.
Finally, choose this with the utmost of care. Remember: A book is a slice of a person’s life (unless you’re writing Historical, Epic, Family Saga, etc.). And it must contain the most seminal moments that have turned him one way or another.
Whether your story works on not hinges on this, and indeed, everything in the entire book does. It’s what makes a book satisfying. Or not.
And it holds the ultimately key of how your plot influences your character, and your character propels the plot.