Just lately I have been preoccupied with the inner journey in stories, which got me to thinking about the decision-making mechanism that drives it.
I have been emphasising that the story, at the level of plot, is the reflection of the protagonist’s character arc – that until the character achieves a high level of moral, spiritual and emotional self-awareness she can not prevail against the antagonist.
I want to say a little more about the mechanism that allows us to bridge the inner and outer journeys.
How the Decision-Making Mechanism Works
The protagonist initiates action as a response to some physical conflict or threat at the level of plot. Typically, she receives a challenge which she is forced to tackle head-on. But this requires that she first make a decision of how to proceed.
So: 1. A challenge is issued by the antagonist. 2. The protagonist makes a decision of how to respond. 3. The protagonist takes action based on that decision. 4. The antagonist responds, further thwarting the protagonist. 5. The protagonist initiates more action to try and achieve the goal by other means.
But because the protagonist lacks emotional, moral and spiritual maturity for the greater part of the story, she fails to make the right decisions until her suffering, resulting from her string of defeats, causes her to learn from her mistakes.
The quality of the protagonist’s decision-making, therefore, directly impacts the quality of her actions. Her efforts can only lead to victory when she has fully achieved maturity – usually by the end of the story.
In my novella, The Nostalgia of Time Travel, for example, the protagonist, Benjamin Vlahos, who is his own antagonist, can only break his decades-old isolation when he faces the truth about his childhood and forgives himself his one great mistake that led to the death of his beloved wife. It is this realisation, based on painstaking emotional, spiritual and moral maturation, that finally allows him to change his life forever.
The decision-making mechanism is the bridge between the protagonist’s inner and outer life and is tied to the character’s developmental arc.