The best stories describe a character’s struggle to overcome the flaws in their personality. In reality, perfection doesn’t have to be so difficult to achieve.
‘In most modern stories it is the Hero’s personality that is being recreated or restored to wholeness. The missing piece may be a critical element of personality such as the ability to love or trust. Heroes may have to overcome some problem such as lack of patience or decisiveness. Audiences love watching Heroes grapple with personality problems and overcome them. Will Edward, the rich but cold-hearted businessman of Pretty Woman, warm up under the influence of the life-loving Vivian and become her Prince Charming? Will Vivian gain some self-respect and escape her life of prostitution? Will Conrad, the guilt-ridden teenager in Ordinary People, regain his lost ability to accept love and intimacy?’
Christopher Vogler. The Writer’s Journey.
It can be worthwhile to tell the client about the etymology of perfect. The first part of the word (per) comes from a term that means “thoroughly.” Fect comes from the same root as the word factory and means “made.” In normal language, wholeness and perfection seem to be issues of evaluation. If to be perfect is to be thoroughly made, perhaps perfection is more a matter of presence or wholeness. The idea “I am missing something” also comes in a moment that is always absolutely whole. No second contains more life than any other second, even the seconds that are filled with thoughts of how incomplete we are. The experience of that very thought can be complete.’
Steven C. Hayes, Kirk D. Strosahl, Kelly G. Wilson. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: An Experiential Approach to Behavior Change.
Writers have to challenge their heroes and force them to face not only tough enemies but to confront their long-held beliefs and values.
Great storytelling isn’t just conflict between characters. It’s conflict between characters and their values. When your hero experiences character change, he challenges and changes basic beliefs, leading to new moral action. A good opponent has a set of beliefs that come under assault as well. The beliefs of the hero have no meaning, and do not get expressed in the story, unless they come into conflict with the beliefs of at least one other character, preferably the opponent.
John Truby. The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller.
In ACT, the therapist is engaging the client in a kind of contest between two main players. On one side is the client’s mind. By “mind,” we mean the set of rules and relations that the client uses to order the world. Because so many of these are culturally established, it can be clinically useful to speak of “mind” as if it is another person or something slightly external (as indeed it is in the sense of being a cultural intrusion into the individual). On the other side, there is the wisdom of the client’s direct experience. The client has directly contacted certain outcomes. The mind and experience are in fundamental conflict. The therapist’s job is to challenge the client’s reliance on verbal rules so that experiential wisdom can play a greater role. The challenge is to undermine ineffective rules and replace them with contingency-shaped behavior, accurate tracks, and augmentals linked to chosen values.
Steven C. Hayes, Kirk D. Strosahl, and Kelly G. Wilson. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: An Experiential Approach to Behavior Change
Find the essence of your fictional characters, their roots, to see how they will grow. It might reveal something about yourself too.
The soil above the seed is hard to push through, but this very handicap, this resistance to the soil, forces the young sprout to gather strength for the battle. Where shall it get this additional strength? Instead of fighting ineffectively against the topsoil, the seed sends out delicate roots to gather more nourishment. Thus the sprout at last penetrates the hard soil and wins through to the sun. According to science, a single thistle needs ten thousand inches of root to support a thirty- or forty-inch stem. You can guess how many thousands of facts a dramatist must unearth to support a single character. By way of parable, let a man represent the soil; in his mind we shall plant a seed of coming conflict: ambition, perhaps. The seed grows in him, though he may wish to squelch it. But forces within and without the man exert greater and greater pressure, until this seed of conflict is strong enough to burst through his stubborn head. He has made a decision, and now he will act upon it. The contradictions within a man and the contradictions around him create a decision and a conflict. These in turn force him into a new decision and a new conflict.”
To create great characters, writers need to understand their own thoughts and feelings first.
We all share the same crucial human experiences. Each of us is suffering and enjoying, dreaming and hoping of getting through our days with something of value. As a writer, you can be certain that everyone coming down the street toward you, each in his own way, is having the same fundamental human thoughts and feelings that you are. This is why when you ask yourself, “If I were this character in these circumstances, what would I do?” The honest answer is always correct. You would do the human thing. Therefore, the more you penetrate the mysteries of your own humanity, the more you come to understand yourself, the more you are able to understand others.
Often many people we meet in our daily lives seem to have it all. They seem happy. They look satisfied with their lives. You’ve probably had the experience of walking down the street when you’re having a particularly bad day, and you’ve looked around and thought, “Why can’t I just be happy like everyone around me? They don’t suffer from chronic panic (or depression, or a substance abuse problem). They don’t feel as if a dark cloud is always looming over their heads. They don’t suffer the way I suffer. Why can’t I be like them?”
Here’s the secret: They do and you are. We all have pain. All human beings, if they live long enough, have felt or will feel the devastation of losing someone they love. Every single person has felt or will feel physical pain. Everybody has felt sadness, shame, anxiety, fear, and loss. We all have memories that are embarrassing, humiliating, or shameful. We all carry painful hidden secrets. We tend to put on shiny, happy faces, pretending that everything is okay, and that life is “all good.” But it isn’t and it can’t be. To be human is to feel pain in ways that are orders of magnitude more pervasive than what the other creatures on planet Earth feel.