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30 Days of Tips for Character Development: What is Your Character Afraid of?

Exploring the inner mind of your characters is an essential step in character development. Jeanne Veillette Bowerman shares advice on understanding the psyche of your characters to help you add conflict to your stories with a new writing exercise.

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To read the full series of 30 Days of Tips for Character Development, click here. The post is updated with every new tip so you can keep track of all the character creation advice.

As we discussed in the last post, character evolution requires understanding the deep flaws within our characters. In past two days of character development tips, we dove into understanding how to define our character's inner wounds. I hope you took your time, really exploring their childhoods and the people in their lives who informed their futures, and their mindsets. 

Since pushing your character to evolve is so critical to a successful story, I want you to spend one more day on their wounds, so you fully understand their psyche. 

Typically, harboring that wound keeps your characters from achieving their goal. So, why would they just not let go? Why are they clinging to the past? Why can't they move on and acknowledge what is keeping them paralyzed? What makes them uncomfortable just thinking about letting that wound go?

What are they afraid of? 

By being "afraid," I don't mean being scared of the dark, or spiders, or vampires. I mean what scares them about moving past their emotional wound? 

Time to find out... 

DAY 8: In the voice of your character, write a letter to the person who hurt them most in life—the person they feel is responsible for the origin of their inner wound. Give your character the gift of safely confronting their personal antagonist. 

Don't go easy. Get mad. Embrace whatever emotions come. Do NOT let your character off the hook by being cliche. Do NOT protect them. Make them tell the truth with full and raw honesty. Give them a "safe place" to finally be open with someone. 

Close the door and let the tears flow. 

Remember what I said about paying attention to what makes you cry. I promise, the more you dig deep, the more you'll learn about your characters, and the better your story conflicts will be when you sit down to write.

Maybe it's not a specific person, but a life event that has them trapped. Then do a "stream of consciousness" word purge. Set a timer for 15 minutes and write as much as you can, without stopping, about how and why this character feels paralyzed in their fear.

Step 2: After you've vomited out their pain onto the page, read it a few times before laying your character on the therapy couch and asking them one more question...

What's the worst that could happen to them IF they decided to change?

I remember feeling paralyzed by my inner fears, telling my therapist how trapped I felt. Her response was simple: Once you realize what's keeping you trapped in that feeling of helplessness, your life will change. You'd have said it out loud. You are now aware of it. Sure, you can still choose to ignore it, but now you've at least been honest with yourself. 

If your character chooses to ignore the problem, that also tells you more about their psyche and importance of asking them the question, "What's the worst thing that could happen if you choose to stop ignoring your wounds and push past them?"

They, and you, might be surprised at the answer.

One of my characters responded, "I'd be happy." Bingo. That response said a lot about her sense of self worth. Which led to another question, "Why don't you think you deserve to be happy?"

Yeah, that's something we all should make the time to answer.

BONUS: Think about the “antagonist” in your own life… don’t go easy on yourself. What's holding you back? What are you afraid of? Open the wounds and get out the salt shaker That's what writing is all about—making people feel, even if it hurts.

Next up, Meet the Bad Guy

More articles by Jeanne Veillette Bowerman

Learn more about raising the emotional level of your scenes with our on-demand webinar, Writing Strong Crisis and Climax Scenes: The Two Keys to Screenplays That Connect with Audiences (and Hollywood)


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