Peggy Bechko: The Wounds Our Characters Carry

flesh wound

by Peggy Bechko

Or:

I’m Still Standin’

People normally go through a lot in life. Good, bad, insane! It all wads up within our lives to create wounds of a wide variety. Sometimes we can only marvel in the aftermath that we’re still standing.

Why am I telling you this? Well, as writers, the characters we create are hopefully just like me, you and Joe Blow. In order to make them that they have to have wounds just like everyone else since the heart of storytelling is the hero’s inner journey. The protagonist is questing for something, something that will make his life much more than it is, something better, something that leads to fulfillment of some kind.

So what’s in the way? The wounds of the past of course. There are many possibilities; hurts, betrayals, injustice, loss, all the things that never quite leave us. Those that lodge there in the background of our lives and create the environment that nurtures fear that what happened before could happen again. And that fear can cause anger, hesitation, adjustments to a course that would have been better adhered to, make us pause as to what risk is okay and what is too much.

All of that needs to reside within your protagonist as well. He’s me, you and Joe Blow. He’s everyman and he’s just like us.

So it’s imperative that you, the writer, whether dabbling in screenwriting or novels, understands what past trauma the hero is wrestling with. What monsters from his past are shaping his future. Because when we dig down inside those wounds like a bad divorce or a terrible accident are the seeds of self-doubt. The character may well wonder, was it my fault just as the everyday Joe Blow would. Us humans so quickly go to martyr-world when something bad happens, even if the event was entirely out of our control and heap blame upon ourselves. What could I have done to change things? Was it my fault to begin with? Why is it always me?

Logical?

No, emotional. And that’s the heart from which your hero springs. Disillusionment, self-pity, steely determination could all well spring from past trauma of some sort.

A hero who saw his father mugged and killed on the street for a few dollars in his pocket could well believe he should have done something. Or he might feel helpless – always, in all things. It might make him grow up fearful, or conversely it could cause him to grow up as a martial arts expert, determined to protect himself and his family. He could be nurturing mistrust or paranoia or he might have gone 360 degrees and be aggressive and protective to the point of becoming a loose cannon himself. Or he might have hit the sweet spot, found a profession where he can be the strong person he envisions and be a true hero.

Think, consider when creating characters – what was their life’s traumas? What do they have hidden in the closets of their minds that have shaped them, perhaps caused them to do things they might not have otherwise? What transformed that little boy who loved to design and build things into the single-minded killing machine determined to rid the world of terrorists (for good or bad)?

That’s the heart of your character. That’s what brings him to life. It’s integral to story and all you have to do is look around you in life or remember your own life to hit upon the deep-seated motivation you’re seeking to create the gripping character that will have people reading your book and heading to the movies to see your story on the screen.

Think about it. What’s your motivation?


Peggy Bechko is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.