A trait, a trait, my kingdom for a trait!

StatuteOne of the marks of accomplished writing is how well the writer integrates the hero’s outer and inner journey in her story. Which is to say: How well does the inner journey explain and support the visible events of the plot? Not only must the writer present a clear developmental arc for her protagonist, but she must integrate that arc with the protagonist’s actions.

One way is to tie the hero’s arc both to the hero’s and to the antagonist’s character traits.

We are reminded in previous articles on this topic that, typically, a character has four traits — three positive and one negative for the hero, and three negative and one positive for the villain. This allows the writer to tie the hero’s inability to achieve the goal to his negative trait — a trait the villain skillfully exploits to keep the hero down.

But, by the end of the story, the tables turn. Schooled by experience, the hero is not only able to dig deeper and unleash the power of his positive traits, but he can identify and use the villain’s own weakness against him, too. This is a one-two punch combination that is enough to gain the hero his goal by knocking out his opponent

In Gladiator, Maximus is able to muster his remaining strength and slay the usurping emperor with his own sword. In so doing, he fulfills his promise to revenge his family and keep Rome safe from all enemies, including tyrants. He is able to manifest his inner strength, which stems from moral fortitude and loyalty, as physical strength, and use it against the villain’s own weakness: Had Commodus not been an egoistical coward determined to show Rome that he could defeat the world’s greatest gladiator in the arena, he might well have lived.

It is this combination, this interlocking of the positive traits of the hero with the negative traits of the villain, that allows the final showdown to resonate with irony, tension, and a sense of justice. The result is a powerful and memorable story skillfully rendered. We would do well to emulate this in our own writing.

Summary

Use your hero’s and villain’s warring traits to drive the story forward and to integrate inner and outer journey events.

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Image: dbking
License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode

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