Article of the Month

                    The Internal Journey

                     c. 2002 by Alicia Rasley



    What do you see as your protagonist's internal journey? That is, how does your protagonist have to grow and change throughout the course of the story? What journey does the plot force him/her to take?  Where does he/she start, and where end up on some essential internal isuse?

    Here are some protagonist journeys. There are MANY more out there-- this is just a
sample. Notice that the journeys imply conflict and movement of some kind-- negative or positive.

Mystery to truth
Fear to courage
Doubt to decision (Hamlet)
Revenge to justice
Sin to redemption
Isolation to alliance
Denial of fate to acceptance of fate (Oedipus)
Ambition to destruction (Macbeth)
Exile to home (Odyssey)
Delusion to realization
Disillusion to suicide
Self-delusion to self-knowledge
Deception to truth
Innocence to corruption
Naivete to disillusion
Smugness to humility (King Lear)
Alienation to reconciliation
Greed to corruption
Guilt to amends
Shame to self-acceptance
Self-deception to self-awareness
Self-deception to misjudgment
Obsession to balance
Obsession to destruction
Power to tyranny


    Once you figure out the internal start-and-end points, list some steps he/she needs to take to make that journey. Where does he start, where does he end up? And how does he get there?

For example, if his problem is that he is obsessed with getting revenge on the drunk driver that killed his wife, then his journey might be from obsession to balance.  (Revenge to justice too, of course.)

    So some steps might be:
1) He's got to do something to show how obsessed he is early in the book,
so we get a "before" picture. So maybe he quits his job or gets fired
because he's insisting on getting revenge.

2) He's got to take some positive action towards his goal of getting
revenge, like tracking the guy down.

3) He probably has to take some revenge action (but it can't be
sufficient-- too early in the book) like starting to ruin his business,
or steal his wife away, or something baaa-aad.

4) He's got to be presented with another option-- there's no conflict if
he never has any choice beyond taking his revenge. The other option
should be something from 'his good side' maybe. Maybe he's planning on
stealing drunk driver's wife, and observes her with her children, and
unwilling admires her as a person and has second thoughts about using her
as a pawn in his revenge.

5) But again, if he does the right thing at this point... there goes your
conflict. :) So maybe he only does the right thing half way, or the wrong
thing halfway, or he starts doing the wrong thing and stops, or.... but
he's no longer acting with the single-mindedness he did before. Something
else is affecting his decisions.

6) Maybe he has to get more thoughtful about what happened back then and
why and what it has to do with him. Obsession is very often a "cloaking
mechanism" for another emotion-- for men, often grief or guilt; for
women, often rage or shame. So maybe he needs something to show him that
he feels guilty because he meant to get home in time to drive his wife
somewhere, and he got caught up at the office and she decided to walk,
and got hit by drunk driver. Only when he recognizes his own feelings of
guilt will he realize something about the basis of his obsession.

7) Something else has to draw him out-- probably admiration/love for
heroine-- because he has to start looking forward and not just to the
past. This has to be shown as a competition with the vengeance need,
something he might see as weakening his resolve.

8) He probably needs to face the internal conflict (guilt turned to
vengeance) in the crisis, be forced to choose between compassion for the
woman and her kids and his need for vengeance.

9) In the climax, he should probably be given the opportunity to get his
revenge... but with a choice to do something else that's more positive.

10) Finally, he probably has to decide just what to do with this drunk
driver-- turn him over to the police, forgive him, or what?
    Chart your own protagonist's internal journey steps as clearly as you
can, but don't worry if there are gaps.  If you know the beginning and the end of the journey, you'll be able to plot the route as you go.
    Just keep in mind that the "road" is probably the external plot-- the events happening on the outside that force the protagonist to confront this internal issue and choose to change.

Alicia Rasley is a 16-year member of Romance Writers of America and Indiana RWA, a writing teacher, and a RITA-award winning Regency author. She teaches at Painted Rock Writers Colony.

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Go to previous articles:

Synopsis Creation: Plot Revision

Paradox in Balance

Character-Plot Coherence

Romantic Turning Points

Individualizing Viewpoint


Quick Character Motivation Exercise

Dazzling Dialogue Tips

The Submission Journey

Suspense Is More Than Surprise

Scenes on Fire!

 Beginnings, Middles, and Ends: The Purposes

 Character Motivation

 On the Brink: Turbocharge Your Opening

Tightening the Sagging Middle

Sharks in the Water: Old Scams in the New Millennium

The Publishing Journey

Lest Ye Be Judged: Contest Judging for Writers

Setting and Character Interactions

Developing the Dark Moment

The Promise of the Hot Premise

Outline Your Novel in Thirty Minutes

Subtle and Sensual

Plotting Without Fears

Structuring the Story

End Thoughts

Details, Details

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