• Meg Gaertner

Developing Character

When I brainstorm a main character for a book, there are two key questions that I ask in order to write a compelling story, one in which the character changes and earns their transformation by the end: what is the character's inciting incident, and what is their dark night of the soul?

It can be eye-opening to turn those questions back on yourself. As an experiment, try it out.

What was your inciting incident?

  • If you gave your life meaning, if you made it a coherent narrative with a beginning, a middle, and an end, and a clear, defining arc: what was the moment that launched you on your journey? That turning point or point of no return that irrevocably set you on the path to where you are now?

What was your dark night of the soul? (And have you had one? Not everyone will have.)

  • In what moment did you come face to face with the ugliest part of yourself? When you hit rock bottom and had to crawl and claw your way out of the hole you made yourself? That turning point or point of no return where you HAD to change, where inertia became untenable?

In my experience, people don't change on a core level unless they have to.

As a writer, it's my job to make my characters suffer enough that they make the decision (conscious or unconscious) to change. As a person, it's my challenge and privilege (part of living a full life) to notice where I'm resistant to change, to stay open to new circumstances, and to remain curious about life and about myself--to believe that who I am is not set in stone.

And so I'm curious, for myself and for our society, will the coronavirus be enough? Have we reached an inciting incident? Is our dark night of the soul still to come? And will we embrace this as the opportunity it is to turn from mere silhouettes into fuller, freer selves?

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