Saturday, August 27, 2016

Two Ways to Create Wounded Heroes

This month we discuss how to make our stories interesting by giving our characters some kind of psychological, spiritual or physical wounds. The process of healing them becomes the character’s arc, the meat in our stories. What mental, physical or spiritual wounds or scars have you used in your stories?

In a discussion with another author, I was asked what scars I had. Me, being something of a pragmatist, started counting off my physical scars. I had many more than I realized which led me to believe I had been somewhat careless with myself and my skin – the biggest organ of any human being’s body.

I have a scar on my right wrist, from the prong on a belt buckle when I was five years old. I have a scar on my right forearm where my friend’s dog caught me with his claw; nothing nefarious there, just a friendly rough and tumble. On my upper right arm I have more of a nick than a scar, the result of a tussle with a tree. I swear it leapt out at me. The friend with whom I was hiking and who is well versed in first aid, immediately and with great glee at being able to employ her skills, treated me for an impaled object injury.

I have a three inch scar on the back of my head, the unfortunate result of having champagne and strawberries for breakfast one Christmas morning. Who knew that champagne bubbles, or the bubbles in any sparkling wine, cause a body to dehydrate very quickly? I passed out cold, never even saw it coming. I split my head open on the edge of a table as I went down, and spent most of that Christmas Day in emergency being stitched up and rehydrated.

There is a scar on my right eyebrow, the result of coming off a horse during a show jumping event. Said horse, Henry by name and so pretty he should have been a female, was known to stop. I decided I would not give him the chance, clapped my heels into him at the exact moment he did stop, resulting in him taking off almost from a standstill and catapulting me out of the saddle. I somersaulted into the ground as he followed me over the jump and hit my right eyebrow with his left hind hoof as he galloped on. Hospital, stitches, black eye, slight concussion, off work for three days. Ho-hum.

The only scars on my left arm are my inoculation mark on my upper arm (I can legitimately identify with Claire Fraser and Geillis Duncan in Diana Gabaldon’s ‘Outlander’) and another under my elbow, the result of slicing it on a sheet of tin when I was eight. My other scars, there are many more, are all surgical scars on my torso. Thanks to those scars I am fit and well today.

Having listened to these histories with some bemusement, my friend then asked if I had used any of them in my writing. I had to say no, as none of them seemed to me to be big enough to be worthy of mention. It was pointed out to me, however, that any one of my accidental scars could be enlarged upon. After all, don’t we all want to heap dreadful things on our heroes and heroines to build the conflict and tension? One of the dictums I remember from an early writing course was, have something bad happen to your character and then make it worse, much worse.

So which of my scars to transfer to a character? I chose the show jumping scar (by the way, that event was never really my fort). Trisha Watts, the character in my novel Loving That Cowboy, has her horse collapse and die beneath her (note to self – dogs, horses and children are not supposed to die in novels!). She is piled into a solid log, splits her head open and is in a coma for eight weeks. When she recovers she finds she’s lost her nerve and can’t get back on a horse without breaking into a cold sweat. Her almost fianc√© turns out to be a cheat and a liar. She dumps him (and rightly so). PTSD follows, as does difficulty in trusting another man. Whew.

I’ve used fear of rejection for both my hero and heroine in my book His Ocean Vixen. During the Regency era you were either in (as a member of the aristocracy) or out (as a plebeian). Such was the nature of the time that anyone engaged in trade and making their own money, was frowned upon. My hero, a bastard but recognized and loved by his father, is turned out with nothing by his wicked step-mother when his father dies. My heroine, suffering the results of an unconsummated marriage, fears that no man could love her as she wants to be loved and that she will never have the family she desires. All this makes for interesting, juicy, messy internal and external conflict as the characters fight to overcome their fears.

There are so many avenues to explore with any of these themes. Even where your hero or heroine comes in their family, first born, middle or youngest child and any computation thereof, can carry its own trauma. Taking myself as an example, I am the first born of two sisters. We both exhibit the characteristics of first borns (oh, boy! Do we ever – perfectionist, reliable, conscientious and much more) because there are nine years separating us. Both my daughter (first born) and my eldest son (middle child) share first born characteristics, she because she is the first born and he because he is the first born of two boys. He also has the characteristics of the middle child. The New Birth Order Book by Dr. Kevin Leman delves into these computations in detail. I understood all my children, especially my youngest son, much better after reading it.
It also helped me develop my character, Emmeline Devereux, in my first Regency book, His Dark Enchantress. Emmaline was an only child and as such shows the characteristics of a first- and last born child. My characters come to me fully formed and named. It’s only then I begin to build their backstory and look into all the ways I can twist their psyches by using some of these characteristics.

Here is this month’s list of fellow Round Robin bloggers. I’m looking forward to reading their takes on the subject.